Michael Clarke is in the viewing room at Old Trafford, Yeezus howling in his eardrums. He can’t help but feel that the brash synths and the turbulent rhymes are synchronising perfectly with the carnage on the field. It’s been a tough morning already for Australia, with two down early, and Clarke’s humble demeanour is charged with resentment; knowing it will inevitably be him that has to face the music at three down for not much and resurrect the situation for the team, again. Luckily for him – or perhaps not luck but the product of hours and hours of training and disappointment and rebirth and grit and unbridled ego – he is magnificent at batting.
Predictably, the third wicket falls before he can even finish the album, just as Yeezy is getting into his stride – Star Wars furs yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca, number one Chief Rocka number one Chief Rocka oh . . .
Abrupt but whatever, he unplugs himself, he has to get out there. He is received with applause, cheers, boos, jeers – the kind of response that lets everybody know he’s the pivotal wicket, that he runs the game, that people buy tickets just for this, that everyone is invested in his success or failure.
He struts onto the square, practises a few short jabs – elbow up nice and high, strong wrists. He reaches the crease, adjusts his gloves, surveys the field, asks for leg – closer to you, closer, yes – scrapes the crease, smacks down on it several times. And what does he see as the tall blond Englishman runs in at him with a red stain on his trousers and a red ball in his right hand? It’s a total transformation, and Clarke’s management is already midway through consultation on patenting this strategy as both a very effective youth-coaching method and probably the bestselling Australian video game of all time.
As Stuart Broad runs up from his mark, pivoting the ball in his wrist to get into his action, Clarke spends these moments mercilessly objectifying him. The little pivot of the ball is enough to get started. Like every music video he remembers from his Sunday mornings at home with ‘Video Hits’ in the U14 days; the bouncing girl with the dainty wrists, running toward him urgently. Broad metamorphoses, elongating her hair, shaking it out, slicking it back – slow motion – in a continual, endless forward movement toward the camera as it dollies back away from her: the eternal shimmying of the model toward the rapper sitting on his retreating motorised throne.
As Broad gets into his delivery stride and gets side-on to bowl, Clarke goes all the way for maximum objectification. He assesses Broad’s legs as they jump, both for speed of the delivery and as a target – her legs spread wide. He adjusts his vision up to completely focus on the ball in his hand – which, for Clarke, simultaneously represents the baby he ain’t ever gonna pay child support for at least not with no pre-nup’; the beauteous woman that he needs to watch closely and with a protective eye to ensure she doesn’t slip into the wrong hands; and, lastly, the female’s ejaculate which he wishes to avoid aggressing his face or really any part of his body, and to get away as far as possible, because signifiers of female pleasure are gross.
Further there’s the metamorphosis of the objectified woman, previously Broad, into the ball, now an object of desire; a power dynamic he requires in order to keep his fetishised desire for victory intact.
The ball leaves the broad’s hand. It’s in the air for around a third of a second. During this time, Clarke makes an instinctive first step forwards toward the ball – the rapper confirming his positive intent, his urge to be nearer the prey – but then always there must be contingency in the batsman’s movement, awareness, alertness, he knows that in this moment he will make a crucial decision. Will he push outwards, lean into the stroke, along the carpet through the covers, following through gently, barely more than a push? Or will he go inside-out, leaning back, lifting it up over the covers and splaying it? Or will he move toward it and then shun it, letting it pass? Let’s not get caught up in the moment, he tells himself, there’re a thousand yous, there’s only one of me.
The key is to objectify the ball to the absolute limit, to consistently desire, yearn for, want, but not necessarily respect it; so that it can be dispatched at a moment’s notice; a hard crack and it flutters off to the boundary only to return about forty-five seconds later, bewildered, slightly scratched on one side but licked soon after by the bowler, seam slightly frayed, but still returning for more punishment. Clarke flashes for a moment to the plight of Rihanna and feels a weird empathy for the ball just as it passes him and he plays and misses outside the off-stump, tentative. Broad runs up to him, stands over him, mutters: ‘Plenty more of that coming. Just back of a length where you like it?’
Clarke stares him down. ‘I love it.’
Broad smirks, walks back to his mark, receives the ball from mid-off, licks his finger, rubs the ball, rubs it against his trousers four times, pivots it in his hand, going through the same routine of objectification. He thinks about putting it back of a length and having it hit the seam and move slightly away from Clarke by imagining Clarke – little Pup – as a woman on the street he hopes to drive past slowly, low suspension, and just get a whiff of, the slightest nick, before slipping off into the cordon. He imagines himself running into the huddle, received and lauded as the man who took that woman’s edge.
Clarke sees the ball for what it is, clearly this time – bruised leather, stitches – and moves forward in a confident stride, elbow high, driving elegantly straight past the broad, whose legs are split in her follow-through and cannot get her long arms down to intercept it as it rushes past, then down the slope, past the super-imposed advertising, to the boundary. A cheer erupts from the green-and-gold portion of the stadium; Clarke walks up the pitch, prodding his bat into cracks, lifting his head to speak to Broad, and says: ‘You know my biggest pain in life is that I’ll never be able to see myself bat live?’
‘Probably for the best, mate. You can barely get it up, let alone keep it straight—’
‘Look, imma let you finish, but Jimmy Anderson was one of the best bowlers of all time. Of all time.’
‘Wait. Are you…quoting Kanye West at me? Do you know how white you are?’
‘Oh come on. How could you be me and want to be someone else?’
‘Jesus Christ, mate.’
Broad walks back to his mark, ready to deliver again. The banter and the to-and-fro continues for some time, Clarke getting his eye in – that is, toning the acuteness of his objectification – and, simultaneously, Broad trying to objectify Clarke; work out his weaknesses, his frailties, and exploit them so as to tempt him into a false stroke and defeat him, sending him back to the dressing room to take a shower and be replaced by someone else. Clarke is no floozy, though. He has spent many long hours on his technique. He spent his teens in his father’s indoor sports’ centre; just him and the bowling machine, shot after shot, like an unlimited supply of pornography being fired at him at 150kph – ‘night in, night out’. His chafed hands, his tired eyes, his increasingly immaculate technique.
Then came his glorious debut in India, a flourish of drives, cuts, pulls, untainted by the possibility of failure. The opposition was unprepared; he flayed them through the air, with class, style, without restraint. A series of successes followed, both with bat and ball, his keen eye snaring scalps on torn-up pitches in India, oppositions hapless.
But his technique was too flamboyant. Too many balls through the covers in the air, too many chances for the opposition to snare him. Why was that? Carelessness? Naive self-belief? The pomp of a rapper who thinks he can have it all, who taunts the Jay-Zs of the industry calling them old and past it, a young nobody who wears all the chains, has all the degraded babes in his videos – rack city bitch rack rack city bitch – but doesn’t have the substance, stamina, longevity, to really back it up. Objectification without intent – a pretty motherfucker with fuckin’ problems – but without the drive or the hubris of a Kanye to really stand up to the pressure.
He had to learn intent. The batsman as stylist, yes, but never loose with his strokes. Objectification as an art form, not a way of life: Kanye West, holed up in his Paris apartment, discussing his new interest in ceramics.
You watch the bowler, make him your bitch. The ball in the air, know it’s yours, watch it onto the bat, pummel it, watch the fielder sweat along after it, relax, know you are about to do it again. Make the bowler work, perspire, running to you for your pleasure, you are the fulcrum, you do as you please, cut it severely, behind point, flying away, he thinks you’re being rash but you are the epitome of control, deft placement, objectifying the objectification itself – one man entertaining an entire stadium (and all of the cameras trained on it) simply by depicting a sadistic urge toward an object of his desire.
Clarke’s well into his innings now, the seventies, pure concentration, objectification, at a breezy run-a-ball. His wagon wheel is immaculate, his placement perfect. His team-mates continue to crumble though; they don’t have quite the same purity of intent as he. Five down already, ambivalent toward their target, their technique, their purpose. They really need him to push on to salvage a workable total.
Swann is at him now, spinning and dipping, and Clarke is both forward and back, advancing at him, then back and across, cutting him in front of point, pulling him to cow corner, lifting him over his head: relentless. Every now and then Clarke will defend, dropping it down onto the pitch, as if in deference, as if to say, I cannot control you always, I cannot dispatch you always, you deserve at least some of my, albeit waning, respect.
On into the nineties he goes, clipping it off his pads, running it fine, never settling, always moving. But each time, each punch, is another lesson to the opposition that Clarke will punish you if you don’t respect him, that the crease he has marked is his throne. He will push out of it, or sit back inside it, but always be back, centred, present, to punish anything that doesn’t respect his ability.
Broad comes back for another spell and touches on Clarke’s corridor of uncertainty. Each time Clarke misses he winces, recoils, thinking of objectifications gone wrong: Janet Jackson’s nipples, Kim Kardashian’s sex tape; times in which the intent was there, but the execution was slightly off. You can’t just simply go malfunctioning your wardrobe at the Superbowl, or push too far forward on something that’s back of a length, rising up onto the splice of the bat and dropping just short of the gully. But perhaps you can use a sex tape to advance your career in the right circumstances, if your image is tied more to scandal than morality, or if, for example, you go too hard at a pull shot and get a bottom edge and it runs fine and goes for four – the fine leg, running around and diving uselessly. Sometimes fortune works in your favour. Sometimes an edge will run through slips or you will be acquitted of a statutory rape charge.
And there he is at ninety-nine runs and he really needs to lock this down, really breathe in, really look up at Swann and analyse the situation and really focus in on the breasts he might have – like beach balls, bouncing through the crowd – and his hips that could be swaying; like the cheerleaders cricket is ever-too-traditional to utilise, and his eyes so big and brown as he glares running in, wanting him: does that mean he’s trying the arm ball? Does that mean she wants to really twerk it for him?
Swann jumps, pivots and delivers, and Clarke’s eyes light up; he looks at her rotations, anti-clockwise coming towards him, that’s off to leg, workable; that’s seductive, that’s dipping, that’s voluptuous, pneumatic, punishable; that’s so much like the balls he’s seen glided away for centuries all through his childhood, but he has to get to the pitch of it, has to really look at it in the eye, let it approach him, look it up and down, judge it, fill it with his disdain, stop it before it can turn on him or change its mind or have agency or even occupy its own subjectivity at all, before it can deviate: he must whip it through square. And he does. He advances one, two steps out and then the forward extension, head over the ball immaculately, channeling the smooth, effortless flows of Mark Waugh and Andre 3000; he follows through on it, closing the face of the bat to get it in front of the square fielder. It shoots off right out of the sweet spot and spurts away with force, through the field, trickling down toward the leg boundary, trickling, trickling, and finding the rope, where she ends up, tied between rope and barricade. The crowd erupts. He kisses his helmet and raises his bat.