With 251 not out next to his name, and a match-defining partnership of 288 alongside Ricky Ponting in his pocket, Michael Clarke was given a moment to savour at the press conference after a landmark day for his Australian team. Standing to one side in the room was a columnist who had written derisively of Clarke in the past. His criticism of Clarke peaked in late 2009 with the following line: "His problem is a little more delicate. Michael Clarke is a tosser. Or, to give him an out clause, he appears to be a tosser."

When the juncture arrived for the author of that line to pose a question, he asked Clarke about what an innings like this would do for him in the "big picture". A voracious reader of the press and now a columnist himself, Clarke knew whom he was speaking to. His response carried a pointed word.

"Hopefully, it helps me continue to earn respect," Clarke said. "That's all I can do, and most importantly that helps me put this team in a position to win another Test match. That's our goal; that's my goal - to help Australia win as many games as we can.

"One of the things Punter [Ricky Ponting] taught me before I got the captaincy was as a leader you need to make sure you're standing up on the field; make sure you're leading from the front and scoring runs, and that's what I've tried to do since taking over the captaincy."

Respect is something Clarke has had to battle hard to gain, but he is now earning it in vast swathes with nimble captaincy and batting of increasing presence. He began the second day at the SCG as the recipient of ABC's Alan McGilvray award for Australia's cricketer of the year. The honour came as no surprise to anyone who had seen him lead a young team through its regeneration after Ponting gave up the captaincy following failed Ashes and World Cup campaigns.

"We're a team that's learning," Clarke said. "Young guys are getting a bit of experience and working out that winning Test matches is hard work. There's a really good feeling within the team but that's obviously because we're getting a bit of success.

"Our preparation couldn't be better, we just need to keep building on that consistency, continuing to do our work; and when you get chances in a game you've got to grab them with both hands. If India get on top of you, they're a really hard team to stop, so we've got to make sure that when we've got momentum we keep the ball rolling."

So far in Sydney, Clarke's team have demonstrated how much they are learning, against an Indian side that can only hope for a merciful declaration on the third day. Mindful of how the pitch had evolved from sporting on the first day to friendly on the second, Clarke said he would focus on getting quick runs and giving his bowlers maximum time to bowl the visitors out a second time.

"The track has flattened out a lot compared to day one, so the most important thing for us is making sure there's enough time left in the game to give ourselves a chance to bowl India out. I think we need to bat well tomorrow morning to set the game up. We're a long way from being 2-0 up, a lot of hard work needs to go in, but we're in a really good position."

As befits a captain in the middle of a Test, Clarke was more reticent to speak about his own unfinished innings, coruscating as it has been. He has the painful memory of Cape Town last year, when a sparkling innings was overshadowed by a harrowing defeat, to remind him against triumphalism.

"It's my highest score ever, I don't really know [if it is my best innings]," he said. "I was really proud of the 151 against South Africa; it came in really tough circumstances and that pitch did a lot more than this pitch did. But what makes me proud is I batted the whole day today.

"That's something I've always tried to do and haven't done very often, so that's very satisfying to bat a full day. It's fantastic to have a score beside my name like I do, but as I've seen in the past if you don't win the Test match, it means nothing."

At 251, Clarke has a galaxy of further batting milestones ahead to chase, but he is not thinking too much about them. On debut in Bangalore in 2004 he had been so concerned with mythology that he called for his baggy green cap to reach three figures in, even though India's fast bowlers were on. This time, he said, there would be no such request if he went past 300.

"I think I was a bit silly back then as a kid. I'll be keeping my helmet on if the fast bowlers are on."

Respected and respectful, Clarke has come a long way. He can rightly expect to never again be the subject of words so unkind.