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February 4, 2013
When a 23-year-old Michael Clarke won his first Allan Border Medal in 2005, it was hard to tell what was the glitziest thing about him - his spiky blonde-tipped hair, his bright yellow tie or that ostentatious diamond earring. They were the affectations of a man who felt he had made it. A rising star who had not only broken into the most dominant team cricket had seen since West Indies of the 1980s, but who had been officially recognised as its best player. Already, he felt he had outgrown the nickname "Pup".
Of course, Clarke hadn't really made it, as he learnt when he was dumped from the Test team later that year. It was a lesson in the team being bigger than the individual. Eight years later that message has remained with Clarke, who is Australia's finest Test captain since Mark Taylor, a four-time winner of the Allan Border Medal and arguably the best batsman in world cricket today. He is also in charge of a team that sits third on the ICC Test rankings, a position that seemed unthinkable when he first emerged.
"It is an honour to win an individual award on a night like tonight but it's more about the team," Clarke said after being named Australia's best player of the past 12 months. "I would love to see the Australian cricket team standing on a stage in the near future winning the best sporting team in this country or the best sporting team in the world. Something like that is my goal and I know it's the players' goal as well. It is nice to win another Allan Border Medal and just as special as the first time I won but I'd love to see the team up there winning awards more than individual players."
Few would begrudge Clarke the chance to spend one night celebrating his individual achievements over the past year, a period that continued his remarkable run of form since taking over the Test captaincy. In the near two years since he replaced Ricky Ponting as leader, Clarke has averaged 72.48 in 20 Test appearances and the only series his team has lost was the 1-0 defeat to South Africa this summer, a result that did not reflect how dominant Australia were in the first two drawn matches. But Clarke is not so enthused when reflecting on his time in charge.
"I would have liked to have done better. We've played some really good cricket at times but we've let ourselves down in patches as well, in all formats, not just Test cricket, one-day cricket as well," Clarke said. "I don't think I'll ever be able to sit here and say 'we're fantastic, we don't need to improve anything'. I speak regularly to the boys about every time we go to training we're trying to get better, that's the only way to become the best.
"When I first came into the Australian team I was part of such a special team and we had so many great players and we were the No.1 Test and one-day team in the world for a long period. Those memories stick fondly in the front of my mind and I want this current Australian team to have that same feeling and be able to walk out on the field and know what it's like to be the best in the world. That's our goal and until we get there, I think we've got a lot of work to do."
And a lot of work in a short space of time. Next week the Australians fly to India for a four-Test tour, followed by a battle for the Ashes in England in the middle of the year, and another Ashes series at home next summer. It is an enormous year and one that will reveal much about the team Clarke is building, but the key to his personal success over the past two years has been not to look too far ahead. Despite the challenges on the horizon, Clarke doesn't intend to lose focus now.
"I don't prioritise any tour. I know the Ashes we talk about in this country as the pinnacle, but as an Australian player every Test is exactly the same," Clarke said. "Every one-dayer is exactly the same. I'm sure for the T20 boys it's the same. The more you build something up, the harder it is to actually reach the top ... My focus right now is on these three one-dayers against West Indies, then when I get on a plane to India it will be focus on India, nothing more, nothing less."
That too is an attitude that Clarke learnt early in his career. Making assumptions and looking too far ahead can be a dangerous habit, as Clarke found when he was dropped in late 2005, not knowing if he would ever find his way back into the Test team.
"When I first came into the Australian team the senior players regularly spoke to me about not being in such a rush, being more patient and trying to be as consistent as I could through the good times and the bad times," he said. "As a young player with no patience and always in a rush that was quite difficult. When I got dropped it made me stop and reflect on the areas I wasn't giving 100% to help my performance.
"I think that probably changed my attitude in regards to everything else off the field had to come second. Preparation has always been the key to my success and I wasn't going to let anything stand in my way, to make sure my preparation was 100%, to get back in that Australian team. The scary thing about getting dropped is you never know if you're going to play again for Australia."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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