Clarke speaks of emotional toll
At the end of a summer when Australia went through the unspeakable grief of bidding farewell to Phillip Hughes, Michael Clarke admitted he spoke of a World Cup victory based on skill over emotion as a way of convincing himself that he could endure the toll of this most draining season.
Clarke spoke fully and frankly of the longest of summers after lifting the Cup in front of a world record MCG crowd and signing off from limited-overs cricket with an emphatic win over New Zealand. But it was clear how much it had stretched Clarke, from the emotional tumult around the death of Hughes to running battles with the selection panel over his fitness to lead.
"The summer has been different because it's not just about the physical side of the game," he said. "I think we've all experienced the mental side and the emotion of what's happened, and I guess that's why the boys deserve even more credit, to be able to continue to get up every single day and want to perform and help the team have success with that emotion that runs through your body.
"I think through the whole World Cup, I made it very clear that it was going to be skill, not emotion that won us the World Cup, and I think a lot of the things I've said in press conferences have actually been for myself. I'm saying it out loud so I can hear it myself, and I think that's probably one of the main things I've been saying, skill over emotion will win the World Cup for us, and I think I've needed to hear that, as well. I've needed to say it out loud because it has been emotional, there's no doubt about it.
"To fight my backside off and work as hard as I possibly have to get back into the team, number one, after surgery, and then I guess to deal with what we've all dealt with over the last few months and to win a World Cup in front of your home fans, it's taken amazing discipline from all the players, a lot of hard work, and it's a fitting reward, like I say, for the pain everyone has gone through."
Clarke said he had found it harder to deal with the gap left in his life by his friend and "little brother" as the summer went on, spending a lot of time speaking with the Hughes family, whom he had shepherded through the days before and after the 25-year-old's death.
"Hughesy is thought about and spoken about on a daily basis," Clarke said. "I think probably the last couple of months for me personally, it's probably been harder than when he first passed away. I've been in regular contact with his sister and his family. And I know they would have been watching tonight. I guess that's what makes it so special, that we are still thinking about him. We are still talking about him, and we always will.
"Like I say, I won't play another game, I certainly won't play a Test match without his Test number on my heart, and I'll wear this black armband for the rest of my career. You know, we've spoken about it as a team. We believe we played this World Cup with 16 players in our squad, and that will continue for the rest of my career, that's for sure."
A little more than a day after he had announced his ODI retirement, Clarke was convinced the team was in good hands. Marshalled by the coach Darren Lehmann and Clarke's likely successor Steven Smith, they can be expected to carry on in the same aggressive vein that typified their success in this World Cup. Certainly Clarke had no doubt he was leaving the side in better shape than when he first led it in 2011.
"Now I know it's the right time," he said. "There's no such thing as fairytales in sport but that's as close as it gets for me, not only to win a World Cup but to win in front of your home fans. There was a lot of expectation, a lot of added pressure, the fact we were playing in Australia in front of our home fans. I think the boys soaked that up from day one and loved every minute of it.
"We've worked really hard. Even today once we bowled New Zealand out, six or seven of the guys went to the nets for a hit in the lead-up to our batting innings just to make sure they were as well prepared as they possibly could be and ready to walk out and chase those 180 runs. It shows the discipline and the dedication to wanting the team to have success. I'm extremely proud and really happy with how the day panned out.
"I think the team is in a great place. I think they'll continue to have success. I think they'll continue to get better. I think that talent will not just be talent, it'll be consistent performance. I think, like I said, I think it's the right time for me to go now. I think this team is ready to move forward and continue to have a lot of success all around the world."
As for the timing of his retirement announcement, something a few had questioned on match eve, Clarke gave a simple and logical explanation. In doing so he illustrated how much attention he has paid to the media cycle during his career, both its bouquets and brickbats.
"Because I think tomorrow's press is going to be about the team, and if I announced it tonight, then tomorrow's press wouldn't have been about the team," Clarke said. "I've probably taken one day of media rather than a week of it. I'm hoping the next week is full of positive things about every single player in that change room and what they've achieved in this tournament. But you guys will dictate that."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig