'Legacy of aggressive, entertaining cricket' - Mark Taylor
Two days out from the Oval Test, a familiar figure looked on amongst the usual assortments of players, coaches, photographers and journalists. The former captain Mark Taylor was at the ground to see Michael Clarke and wish him a fond farewell from the game ahead of his 115th and final Test match, 47 of them as captain.
Taylor has long been a defender of Clarke, whether it be in television commentary or in the Cricket Australia boardroom. A few days have passed since Clarke announced his retirement, and in that time the mix of reaction has been more varied than for any Australian captain in recent memory.
Irrespective of what the detractors had been storing up, Taylor said Clarke's legacy as a champion of bright, aggressive cricket was undeniable. He also viewed Clarke as a man of his times, and an advocate for greater individualism and freedom of expression within the Australian team at a time when the weight of earlier eras had been heavy.
"Looking at his legacy to this team, it's aggressive, entertaining cricket, and that's a great thing to have said about you," Taylor told ESPNcricinfo. "That's what the game's about at the end of the day, to have people a) enjoy playing and b) enjoy watching, and I think Michael has done a very good job with that.
"He's had his critics and we've heard from them over the last couple of weeks, but all in all he's definitely his own man, but he's provided excellent entertainment for his team and the people who've watched them.
"He's been a different sort of captain. That's where people I think have struggled sometimes to understand Michael. He's not your typical Australian captain, conservative and boring like me, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting. You knew what you were going to get from us, and with Michael you knew what you were going to get from him, but you've got a different sort of guy.
"He was unmarried when he first took over, most of us have had a wife and kids when we take over the captaincy. So Michael was more your 21st century captain, he was single, he was flashier, lived a different life to some of us in the past, but that doesn't make him a bad person, nor a bad captain. What people have seen through his career is he's a very fine captain, and I've enjoyed watching him captain the Australian cricket side."
Plenty of comparisons have been drawn between Taylor and Clarke over the past four years, and there is another in the timing of retirement. Clarke exits the game at the age of 34, just as Taylor did in early 1999 after finding he had lost the motivation to keep going. For that reason he believes Clarke's final match will be a challenging one.
"I wanted to wish him well, hopefully he can enjoy his last Test match," Taylor said. "It hasn't been a great series for him or the Aussies, and it's not going to be easy for him to get up for the last game, and I know that from a personal point of view. I wanted to let him know I think most Australians want him to do well."
Clarke will finish his international career on the losing side in England for the fourth time out of four, and Taylor said there were plenty of lessons to be gleaned from the series, whether it be batsmen showing greater respect for the conditions or bowlers learning that the high pace they strive for in Australia is less important in England than nagging consistency and subtle movement.
"On the pitches and conditions that have been presented here, we probably could have been a little bit more conservative with our play," he said. "But we haven't made enough runs either and I think if you look at the way we've bowled in this series we've generally tried to chase it too much because we haven't got runs on the board.
"I think you can still be aggressive to play over here, but being aggressive doesn't necessarily mean scoring 400 in a day. With our bowling we can look back at the types of bowlers who've been successful here in past Ashes series - McGrath, Alderman, Ryan Harris - consistent line and length bowlers.
"The bowler of the series to me has been Stuart Broad. Even early in the series when he wasn't getting a heap of wickets, he still bowled the most consistent line and length of all the bowlers, and at the end he got his reward. Our bowlers, the Hazlewoods, Starcs and James Pattinson, who's here now, they have to learn from what they see from Stuart Broad at the moment, so next time they come here in 2019, it's not always about bowling 150kph, it's about hitting the top of off stump over here."
Whatever has been learned by those young enough to return to England in 2019, they all know Clarke will not be among them. Once Taylor had finished speaking with Clarke he spent time with the next man Steven Smith - it is time for another generation to step up.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig