Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 5th day December 17, 2013

Clarke ensures his legacy as captain

Australian captains are judged on their Ashes campaigns. Allan Border is remembered for the 1989 triumph. Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh never let the Urn go. Ricky Ponting lost three times but also revelled in a 5-0 clean sweep. And now, Michael Clarke has ensured his legacy.

For the first time since that 2006-07 thrashing, Australia have beaten England in an Ashes series and Clarke was the captain who delivered it. Nobody can take that away from him.

If Border's 1989 success seems like the modern watershed, the end of a dark era for Australia, consider this: it's been even longer for the current side. Border's men regained the Ashes after 1429 days without them; Clarke's team has endured a 1577-day drought. So long has passed that Clarke himself was the only member of this squad to have tasted Ashes success before.

Perhaps that explains why the rest of the players appeared more emotional than Clarke at securing the Ashes in Perth. Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson were on the verge of tears at the end of the WACA win, and they were not the only ones. Clarke celebrated, hugged his team-mates, smiled and laughed, but remained in control. He was part of the world's No. 1 team for many years; he knows success, even if he'd nearly forgotten it.

"It's as big, there's no doubt about it," Clarke said when asked if this was the biggest moment in his cricket career. "I certainly don't want to show any disrespect to 2006-07, that was a very special series and a different time in my career. I was a lot younger but it was extremely special. But being a little bit older and a little bit greyer this is certainly as special.

"For the guys in the change room to feel this, I don't think you'll find one bloke whether it be player or support staff, who doesn't say this is the pinnacle, playing Test cricket against England and winning the Ashes.

"That's always been the pinnacle for an Australian cricketer. Test cricket in my opinion is certainly the pinnacle and the hardest form of the game. All the boys in the change room, for the work they have put in, they deserve to have this feeling and we'll make sure it lasts a long time tonight."

The celebrations began in the WACA changing rooms soon after Johnson picked up the last wicket, fittingly, given his impact on the series so far. Australia have chosen the same squad for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne - again with Doug Bollinger and Nathan Coulter-Nile on standby - and inevitably their thoughts will turn to the possibility of another clean sweep. But not yet.

"I'm not looking at it tonight, I can guarantee you that," Clarke said. "I'm going to enjoy 3-0 for as long as I can tonight. I think it's really important that we celebrate and enjoy this feeling. But we'll worry about the clean sweep in Melbourne and Sydney. I can guarantee you there won't be any complacency and we will turn up in Melbourne 100% ready to go and doing everything we've done in the first three Test matches."

Clarke's goal remains to return Australia to the No. 1 ranking - they sat fifth before this series began - and there will be considerable challenges ahead to get the team back to the summit, such as winning in South Africa in the new year. But for now all he wants to do is celebrate a victory that was a long time coming, and seemed impossible to imagine when the side was crushed 4-0 in India earlier this year and the Ashes tour in England began with the turmoil of Darren Lehmann replacing Mickey Arthur as coach.

"I don't think we've worked as hard as how we've worked over the last 12 months, probably because we didn't perform as well as we would have liked in India," Clarke said. "I think that certainly changed a few attitudes and we had to work hard in preparation for the Ashes series in England. Boof's been fantastic, there's no doubt about it.

"There's been a lot of people behind the scenes that have played a big part in helping this team move forward, that never get any recognition, that never get any credit. And you know what? If anything they cop criticism.

"We've spoken for a long time about this rotation or resting policy. We don't seem to talk about Mitchell Johnson coming home from India anymore. We flew him home early to get him right for this Ashes series. The strength and conditioning coach, the doctors, the physios, those guys have done such an amazing job to get these three quicks on the field for these three Test matches. And they've done it for a long time."

Johnson, Harris and Peter Siddle have been critical to Australia's success in Australia, for England have not scored more than 400 in an innings on this tour. But then, the same was true of the series in England this year, when the difference was the failure of Australia's batsmen to post the kinds of scores they have at home.

"It hasn't been one player, it's been the whole team," Clarke said. "And the same in regards to coaches. Boof, who I love to bits, he's a fantastic guy and a wonderful coach, it's not just because of Darren Lehmann. It's because of all the coaches, all the support staff, all the people behind-the-scenes that we sit here today."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here