Clarke to quit ODIs after World Cup final
Australia's captain Michael Clarke will bow out of ODI cricket after the 2015 World Cup final against New Zealand, following the example of his predecessor Ricky Ponting.
Clarke, 33, made his decision public at the pre-match press conference on the eve of the final in Melbourne, bringing an end to a career that began in 2003. It is a retirement that will clear the decks for the limited-overs team ahead of the next cycle leading towards 2019, affording his likely successor Steven Smith the sort of clear air Clarke himself enjoyed when Ponting quit after the team's quarter-final elimination in 2011.
"Tomorrow will be my last ODI game for Australia," Clarke said. "I'm extremely thankful and grateful - I've just found out that tomorrow will be my 245th one-day game - it's been an honour and a privilege to represent my country for that amount of games. I'm grateful to every player I have been lucky enough to play with and this team is no exception to that.
"I think it is the right time for me and the Australian team. I was very fortunate four years ago to get the opportunity to captain this one-day team. That was really good preparation for me leading up to this World Cup, I think the next Australian captain deserves the same opportunity. I don't think it is realistic that I'll be fit and healthy and available to play the next World Cup so I believe it is the right time.
"I think I'll leave the one-day game for the Australian team in a better place than when I took over the captaincy. Last World Cup we were knocked out in the quarter-final, this World Cup we have been able to make the final and hopefully tomorrow we can go on and have success in that final. So two finals and one quarter-final for my time in World Cups. I'm hopeful it will prolong my Test career as well. That's obviously a priority for me, to continue to be successful in the Test format. I think by walking away from one-day cricket it probably gives me my best opportunity."
Clarke has played 244 ODIs for Australia, and made 7907 runs at an average of 44.42 with eight hundreds and 57 half-centuries. He led his country in 73 matches, of which Australia won 49. The relatively low number of matches Clarke has captained provides an illustration of how his ODI place had become more peripheral, as injuries had him missing many fixtures between Test assignments.
"I've never hid behind the fact that I find Test cricket to be the pinnacle of our sport," Clarke said. "I've never gone down that road anyway in regard to what is the best thing to do for the public interest, as I'm sure you would have seen through my career, I've copped my fair share of smacks in the mouth.
"But I am who I am and it's about being true to myself and I don't feel bad about saying I believe Test cricket is the toughest part of our game. I love that challenge, I find it extremely difficult every Test match I play. I do see it as the pinnacle. I still think I've got a lot to offer the team as captain of the Australian Test team, and I want to make sure I continue to have success in that format."
As an ODI batsman, Clarke was most at home in the mid-innings passages that linked an often frenetic start with an even more hyperactive finish. As early as his very first match, on a dry Adelaide Oval pitch against England in January 2003, Clarke took on the middle-order role of guiding his team home to a target, and he said it was a position that Ponting had always advocated for him. Though he did occasionally open the innings, Clarke at times looked out of place alongside more powerful players, as he relied more on deft placement and footwork.
"If it was about me I think I would have batted at No. 3 a hell of a lot more than I have throughout my career," Clarke said of his role. "But I think Ricky told me at a very young age he thought I was best suited to the middle order in the one-day game especially, to go and face spin bowling and make sure I bat through those middle overs to help our power game at the end. I've continued on in the same way. The other night and in Perth, those opportunities being one down in the 30th over, I thought it was the right thing for the team to send some power-hitters out in front of me."
While hesitant as ever to put words in the mouths of the selectors with whom he has endured a tense and at times testy relationship over the past four years, Clarke endorsed Smith's maturity as a batsman and an emerging leader for the future of the national team. "Smithy's certainly matured as a player and a person, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said. "His form is because of his hard work, I'm not surprised that he's scoring as many runs as he is because he's training extremely hard.
"He's worked hard on his game, he's learned a lot about his game. It's not fair for me to go into who's going to be the next captain, that's not my place ... Smithy's somebody who will be spoken about ... there's a reason he bats No. 3 for Australia. He's earned that right and he's grabbing that with both hands in the one-day format. If he gets an opportunity to bat No. 3 in Test matches I'm really confident he'll grab that with both hands as well. He's playing a big role in helping us have success. I'd love to see another hundred from him tomorrow."
As for Clarke's legacy as a cricketer, much of it may be dictated by whether or not he guides Australia to victory in the Cup final over New Zealand. Having regained the Ashes last summer and also scaled to the top of the international rankings, a World Cup would help complete a successful if eventful tenure. Nevertheless, Clarke felt he would be defined as much by relationships with team-mates as anything he has done on the field, and by his leadership of Australian cricket during the mourning that followed the death of Phillip Hughes last November.
"I think your legacy is dictated by what your team-mates think of you to be honest," he said. "I've shown through my career in any format that I've always put the team first, [but] I think a lot of my legacy will be based around what happened recently off the field with my little brother."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig