Australia's radiant, new captain

Michael Clarke is now making runs aplenty. And he has made a case for himself as a long-term investment in quality batsmanship. He has only grown in stature as captain, compiling 819 runs with four centuries after taking over. His sterling character was also evident in his declaration when he was 329 not out in Sydney against India. Over to Vijay Lokapally.

If he is the toast of Australia, he deserves it. As a captain, as a batsman, and as a bowler, Michael Clarke left an indelible mark on the Sydney Test, making the occasion so special with a triple century. The unbeaten 329 by Clarke crushed Indian cricket like never before. To cap it, his left-arm spin ended Sachin Tendulkar's hopes of signing off at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a 100th international century.

There were apprehensions about Clarke two years into his international venture. He had started with a bang, a 151 on debut against India in Bangalore in 2004, followed by another big century against New Zealand in Brisbane. And then he encountered poor form, just one half century in 25 innings. It was a difficult period, but it enabled him to analyse his game and career.

Clarke is now making runs aplenty. And he has made a case for himself as a long-term investment in quality batsmanship. He has only grown in stature as captain, compiling 819 runs with four centuries after taking over. His sterling character was also evident in his declaration when he was 329 not out.

His explanation was simple. “Just when I declared had nothing to do with my score. It didn't matter if I was 250 or 300 or 400, I wanted a lead of at least 400 with plenty of time to bowl India out on what had quickly become a very flat wicket,” Clarke wrote in his column.

"It would have been a very hollow feeling to score so many runs and not win the Test. I can vividly recall that hollow feeling in South Africa just two months ago,” said the unassuming Clarke when reflecting on the Sydney Test.

The 30-year-old Clarke, known to be the most realistic individual in the Australian dressing room, wrote, “The 151 I made in Cape Town was probably my best Test innings given the conditions were so heavily in favour of the bowlers and the quality of South Africa's pace attack. So I never let myself get carried away with my score at the SCG. It was all about scoring enough runs quickly enough to win the Test and go 2-0 up in the series.

The New South Wales cricketer offers Australia a long-term option to lead the team and guide the youngsters during the team's transition period. Australia has a history of captains who have led by example. Clarke succeeded Ricky Ponting, who was one of the finest leaders in modern cricket. Clarke lacks Ponting's aggression, but he is tellingly efficient in his own way.

The best compliment for Clarke came from Ian Chappell, who wrote, “"Following his chanceless triple century, now would be the ideal time for Clarke to assume the role of first-drop batsman in a side that he's quickly moulding into a competitive unit. Clarke's four centuries in 10 Tests as captain are ample evidence of a man who is buoyed by the extra responsibility rather than weighed down by expectation. He's a natural captain and is now emerging as a strong leader. His influence on the field is part of the reason why the Australian pace attack has really blossomed and it's easy to see they have great confidence in the captain and his decisions.”

Clarke was not a hesitant captain like Garry Sobers. “I was a freedom loving, happy go-lucky sort of person,” said Sobers on his elevation as captain. Sobers also talked how the “field placements and bowling changes” came to him “naturally.” Quite like Clarke, who took some firm decisions on the field as captain, marshalling his bowlers most astutely during critical stages.

Sobers also made a point that Clarke was to repeat. “West Indies cricket was very important to me. I played for the West Indies and not for myself,” was how Sobers looked at his role. What stood out in Clarke's case was the selfless manner in which he went about his job.

By declaring when he was on 329, a mere five runs short of the 334 shared by Don Bradman and Mark Taylor, the affable Clarke emerged a towering figure among his teammates. He could have well have had a go at Matthew Hayden's 380, the highest individual score in Tests by an Australian.

Clarke was honest. “I didn't think about it at all. I didn't have Don Bradman and Mark Taylor's score in my head whatsoever. It was about trying to get the team to a total which I thought was really good for a declaration. That's all I was thinking about.” Like a true captain, Clarke had put the team ahead of self.

He began his captaincy early in 2011 on a sad note, losing to England at Sydney in January. A 1-0 series win in Sri Lanka was followed by 1-1 draws against South Africa (away) and New Zealand (home).

The smile on Clarke's face radiated right through the Sydney Test. His leadership was so well demonstrated in his decisive performance with the bat. He appeared more thrilled than Ponting when the latter got his century. As Michael Hussey got to his half century, Clarke ran the length of the pitch to pat him. The enthusiasm that he brought to the middle when running the runs for his partners was exemplary. Clarke was emphasising that cricket was a truly team game when the Australians were playing it.

The performance in Sydney ensured that Australia was best-placed to shred the Indian dreams even as the home team battled fitness issues. With Clarke at the helm, Australia can rest assured it has found an ideal successor to the likes of Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ponting, who served with great distinction. Clarke, with his majestic show at Sydney, has taken a huge first step towards hauling Australia back to the top spot in world cricket.