Australian cricket in the time of Michael Clarke has seen great success but also great upheaval. Stunning innings and achievements have alternated with unsavoury stories, with relationships strained behind the scenes then patched up time and again in public.

This duality was never better illustrated than last year, when on the day Clarke and the selectors were in open conflict over his fitness, the blow that felled Phillip Hughes turned into a circuit-breaker that compelled the two parties to co-exist until day three of the Trent Bridge Test. It was always a tenuous balance.

As the reality of a humiliating Ashes defeat sank in, a tabloid despatch from the British Isles spoke of divisions in the team, feuds among the players' partners and of the retiring Clarke's peripheral role in the squad's social life. Whatever the merits of the story, results turned in at Cardiff, Birmingham and Nottingham spoke loudly enough - the team needs regeneration but also revitalisation and even reunification. It is a lot for a new leader to take on.

Into this breach will step Steven Smith, he of 26 years and 32 Tests. A popular and respected team-mate, Smith will carry little of the baggage possessed by Clarke, but will instead have a different set of difficulties. He has already captained the Test team, but as a caretaker in an XI speckled with experience. When he officially takes over for the tour of Bangladesh in October, Smith will lead a side shorn not just of Clarke but also Ryan Harris, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers. The question of who becomes vice-captain - David Warner, anyone? - is a pointer to the team's looming gaps.

Smith will be a different leader from Clarke, more pragmatic than his predecessor, but he mimicked the older man in quickly asserting his distance from selection duties. Whoever is chosen for Bangladesh, Smith will have a challenge ahead of him to mould the group successfully without the sorts of strong characters who co-habited the dressing room with Clarke. Haddin, in particular, has been a major mentor to Smith.

"Obviously it's not my job to pick the team, but there is a possibility there could be some changes and some younger guys coming in," Smith said. "I think Bangladesh is gong to be quite a tough tour, it's another place that is quite foreign to us as Australian batters I guess. So we're going to have to find ways to adapt to those conditions, like we haven't done well here. Hopefully we can do that and have some success over there.

"Nothing is confirmed yet either with anything, in regards to the captaincy. But if it works out that way and I am the next captain, then it's a lot of responsibility. There's obviously a few guys on this tour, the senior players that haven't been taking part in the last couple of games. So it's always tough when you lose those guys. But I think it's exciting for Australian cricket, we're going to have some younger guys coming through."

It remains to be seen how Smith will fare under the extra pressures of permanent captaincy. He has been a voracious user of one-on-one net sessions with the batting assistant Michael Di Venuto, but must now divest greater time for others. He has also shown increasing confidence as a spokesman for the team, but can still slip up at times, as he did in asserting that England would not get close to Australia this tour. Mainly he will need to lead as a batsman, something he did with hundreds in each of his three stand-in Tests against India last summer.

Those games also saw Smith show a conservative streak in not allowing India back into the Melbourne or Sydney Tests with carrot-dangling declarations. It was the antithesis of how Clarke operated, as shown during the 2013 Oval Test when he angered the selector on duty (now chairman) Rod Marsh by offering England a relatively gettable target in a rain curtailed match. It took bad light to prevent the hosts securing a chancer's victory.

Smith has spent plenty of time alongside Clarke in the slips on this tour, and on day two in Nottingham he dived across and tipped a potential catch out of the reach of the captain. Such eagerness had been evident years ago at the 2011 World Cup when Smith collided with Ricky Ponting after both went for a high catch despite the captain's loud call. Clearly Smith is eager to get stuck in as a leader, and demurred when asked whether he had served an "apprenticeship" under Clarke.

"I wouldn't say that," Smith replied. "You can learn a lot from the way he captains [from] just being out there. Standing next to him at third slip, where I've been fielding, it's nice to be able to talk to him and learn different ways as to how we're trying to get the batters out and thinking ahead of the present. That's pretty important as a captain and something that he's done really well, and something I've been able to learn off on the job.

"I was very surprised that it [Clarke's retirement] happened, I didn't see it coming. But I guess when you get to the end of your career you make the decision and Michael's done that, so hopefully we can send him off on a high note at the Oval. He's put so much hard work into playing cricket for Australia. He's definitely been a great servant of Australian cricket. He was a great captain and a terrific player, so he's going to be missed, that's for sure. Hopefully we can send Michael off on a high note at the Oval."

The Oval was where Smith first signalled his arrival as a Test batsman of heft by making his first Test hundred in a dead match. Two years on and the farewell match for Clarke will give Smith time to think about how he wants to take the Australian team forward. Towards success he will expect. Towards unity he will hope.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig