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July 31, 2014
Michael Clarke's short-term goals were made clear this week: regain the No.1 Test ranking after South Africa claimed it back on Monday. His long-term aims are somewhat more grandiose: help Australian cricket move in the right direction "for the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years". "I might not be able to help that at all," he says, "but if I can, I'm going to try."
That is thinking behind the Michael Clarke Cricket Academy, which Australia's captain launched in Sydney on Thursday. He describes the concept as "a finishing school for young cricketers". Yes, they will train like Clarke, following his own personal regime during a five-day camp. Yes, there will be coaches to help them with their on-field skills.
But Clarke wants his academy to provide more than that for the 13- to 18-year-olds likely to form most of the intake. The high standards that Clarke the captain sets within the Australian setup will translate to the academy.
"There's a lot that I had no idea about when I walked onto the Australian stage," Clarke said at the launch in Sydney. "To this day I've never had media training. I was fortunate I went to a school where I had to wear a tie, so I had to learn how to put a tie on, but there's guys in the current Australian team that don't know how to do a tie up.
"I believe the playing part is about 40% of what goes with being an international sportsman these days. I think there's a lot of stuff from the outside world, media training, speaking in front of people, presenting yourself in the right way, understanding and accepting that if you're lucky enough to play international sport you are a role model.
"Whether you like it or not, if there's one boy or girl who looks up to you, then you're a role model. I think if you can learn that from a young age, you're in a much better place than getting there and thinking, oh my god, is this what comes with it."
Notably, the values listed on the academy's website include the line that "negative attitudes are banned", and that "if you're not exhausted both physically and mentally at the end of each day … you're doing it wrong and we will call you on it". The standards at Clarke's academy, as they were in Clarke's team during the "homework" saga in India last year, will be high.
"I wish I'd had that guidance at a young age, to open my eyes to it," Clarke said. "I guess probably after being dropped [from the Test team] I realised that a big part of why I got dropped was because my priorities changed. My preparation was no longer my No.1 priority.
"A big part of this is hopefully trying to help these kids learn from my experiences. Hopefully they don't make the same mistakes. Hopefully they can see things earlier and clearer than what I did."
Although Clarke's ultimate goal is to build an academy facility at Berrima in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, for the time being his academy will run from Sydney, with the first five-day live-in camp beginning in late September.
The aim is to run four camps per year in Sydney during school holiday periods, with coaches including Clarke's father Les, former Test spinner Beau Casson, and former Australia women's captain Lisa Sthalekar. Clarke's own availability will depend on his international commitments. His immediate Test priority is leading Australia to victory against Pakistan in the UAE, which could help his men move back towards the top of the Test table.
"We always knew when we became No.1 in the world, we knew it was so close that there was an opportunity when South Africa played before us and they won that it could go back to them," Clarke said. "I think it's probably a really good sign of where Test cricket is at. A lot of teams are so close to each other and you have to play your best at every opportunity.
"We've got some tough cricket ahead of us in all formats. That's the way it goes. I'm really excited that we were able to get to No.1. I guess what it does do is it clears our goal up very much so - we want to be the No.1 team in the world."
They are the kind of goals - getting the best out of the team and each individual in it - that Clarke wants to instil in his academy students.
"I want both boys and girls to be able to walk out of there and say 'I've learnt a lot about trying to become a better person and a better cricketer'," he said. "There's certainly no guarantees that everybody who goes to the academy is going to go on and play at the highest level, but if we can get the best out of them individually, we've had an impact."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdaleFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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