England v Australia, 4th Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 3rd day August 8, 2015

Clarke removes captain's mask

Michael Clarke's insistence before this match that he would not retire was a mask he wore to shield Australia's Ashes squad from the doubts he was feeling about his future every time he came to the batting crease.

In the sort of frank admission that can be made in the hours after retirement, Clarke said he had been intent on being as positive as possible in the lead-up to the Trent Bridge Test, which Australia had to win in order to stay in the series. His attitude was typified by insisting "I'm not retiring" when not even being asked the question, and then flailing wildly at Stuart Broad's first ball to him on a hellish first morning of the match.

But after an awful first day on which the team were bowled out for 60 in a mere 18.3 overs, Clarke's thoughts of self-doubt returned, culminating in his decision to leave the game at the end of the Oval Test. There will be no hometown farewell, but Clarke will at least have the honour of knowing he is playing his last match. Given Australia's poor fortunes in this series, he may not have had that luxury had he continued playing.

"No doubt I tried to be as positive as I possibly could right to the very end," Clarke said. "For the team's sake, for my sake as well I wanted to give myself and the team every opportunity to come out here and play our best cricket in this Test match. I wanted to send a really positive message to my team-mates, so I thought that was the right thing to do at the time and throughout this Test match obviously things didn't go to plan.

"As a player you build yourself up for the biggest tournaments, that's what you want to be involved in, you want to play against the best. But in one-day cricket that was the World Cup and in Test cricket that's the Ashes so whether we won this series or lost this series, my decision might have been the same. I'll never know but that's the decision I've made. I believe it's the right decision for Australian cricket and for me."

Clarke made his most recent Test century while carrying back and hamstring problems in the Adelaide Test against India last December. It was an emotionally and physically draining effort merely days after the death of his close friend Phillip Hughes, and while hamstring surgery and intense rehabilitation allowed Clarke to be passed fit for the World Cup and this Ashes tour, he was never again able to regain touch.

"Every innings the way I've been batting I've been thinking about it," Clarke quipped. "What's disappointing is I haven't led from the front with the bat. I haven't scored as many runs as I pride myself on as captain of this team. So that was the disappointment I was feeling when I walked off yesterday.

"I don't feel sad, I'm more disappointed or sad with the way we played through this series and the way I played as captain. That's the most disappointing part. I'm not sad about this being the right time to walk away, because I believe it's the right time. I believe I've been blessed to have the career I've had. I've played over 100 Test matches for my country I've been a part of some amazing teams.

"We've won more than we lost so that's a nice feeling and I've been lucky enough to captain Australia as well, so I'm extremely thankful to all of my team-mates and all the people that have helped me firstly make it into the Australian team and then help me have the success I've had, I've always said cricket owes me nothing, I owe it everything and I still believe that."

Looking towards the future, Clarke stated his belief that the vice-captain Steven Smith was ready to step up. He also delivered an impassioned plea for the media to support Smith and an Australian team that must now undergo a difficult period of transition as up to eight players in this Ashes squad contemplate the end of their international careers. Apart from Clarke and the already retired Ryan Harris, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Adam Voges, Peter Siddle and even Mitchell Johnson are much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.

"Smithy had the opportunity through the Australian summer and showed that he's going to make a good captain," Clarke said of Smith. "Only time will tell, but I've certainly got faith in him I believe in him and I believe in the Australian team. I think we have a lot of talent whether it be in this changing room or in the Australian system coming through. I think we need to be patient, there's no doubt about it, especially if we lose a few guys in one go.

"We saw that a few years ago when I lot of the greats walked away from the Australian team, it's going to take some time. We've got great staff and how underrated our important staff are to trying to help get the best out of yourself. It's going to take some hard work and the media in particular need to keep the faith. I think that's really important and I think we need to give players a good opportunity, not write them off when we see one or two bad performances.

"Believe in them and stick with them especially through the tough times. That's one thing I'd love to see improve especially in the Australian media. I think we can stick strong with players especially when they're not performing as well as they would like. I think you watch and see how hard they work those young players, and I'd love to see us get behind them rather than write them off."

Clarke confirmed the news of his retirement to Channel Nine, revealing it in an interview with his friend Shane Warne. He spent much of last summer working as a commentator, and a permanent move into the broadcast box beckons.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig