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right man at the helm

Ain't nothing but a hound dog

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THEN THIS: Michael Hussey finds able support in skipper Clarke after his fighting, unbeaten 150 at Sydney. Clarke had hit 329*

Clarke bats and bats and bats ... and bowls. ' The headline in The Australian summed it up very nicely. Michael Clarke had just batted Mahendra Singh Dhoni's India out of the Sydney Test, declared the innings when he was unbeaten on a mind-boggling 329 and then returned to capture the all-important wicket of Sachin Tendulkar. It paved the way for Australia to win the Test by an innings and 68 runs and go 2-0 up in the four-Test series.

The Australian's headline is actually a variant of the Evening News' Bradman header on the same lines, only minus the 'and bowls' bit. Clarke's Bradmanesque innings at Sydney signalled his rebirth as a batsman as well as leader. He has hardly put a foot wrong ever since taking over the captaincy of the Australian team from Ricky Ponting last year.

It was the sort of innings that makes a batsman. For Clarke, it bought much-deserved recognition even as he craved for acceptance. Asked what this innings would do for him, Clarke was humble in his reply: "Hopefully it will help me continue to earn respect, " Clarke had said before talking about the captaincy.

"One of the things, I guess, Punter (Ponting) taught me before I got the captaincy, was as a leader you need to make sure you're standing up on the field. You've got to make sure you lead from the front and score runs and that's one of the things I've tried to do since I got the captaincy, " he said.

Clarke's craving for respect is understandable, for he has been a poster boy of Australian cricket even before he earned his Baggy Green. The average Australian's impression about Clarke before the SCG Test was that he didn't have it in him to be a leader.

"To them he was more of a playboy, with a beautiful model girlfriend and a penchant for sports cars, who hung around with Shane Warne but did not have his star quality. He was not all that popular in the team either. Even his bat sponsors, Slazenger, declined to renew his contract when it expired on New Year's Eve, " wrote Simon Hughes about the Pup in The Telegraph.

But somewhere down the line Clarke realised that he did not want to become a David Beckham and decided to grow up. And he set about changing his image. He parted ways with his glamorous girlfriend, Lara Bingle, changed his manager and moved house. These days he keeps his personal life under wraps and is loath to talk about his current girlfriend, Kyly Boldy.

His stock has gone up ever since, along with his batting average. His knock at the SCG came in for high praise from Ponting, with whom he resurrected the Australian innings. "I thought Michael showed great intent from the moment he came to the crease, " said Ponting, adding, "what I've seen with Michael is that he's got the ability to separate his batting from the captaincy. Michael has done that really well so far. "

Clarke became the sixth Aussie to score a triple hundred and the first batsman to do so at the SCG. It was an innings of sheer brilliance that lasted for more than 10 hours and was studded with 39 boundaries. And then, he put team before self by declaring the innings when just five runs shy of Bradman's highest score of 334. By ignoring personal glory, Clarke rose even higher in the esteem of his countrymen.

He may still be a work in progress, but Clarke has shown enough resolve and poise in the past few weeks to suggest that Australian cricket has the right man at the helm even as it looks to rebuild and also regain the No 1 status in Test cricket.

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