Happy days: Belinda Clark with the World Cup after Australia's victory in South Africa this year
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Belinda Clark, the country's greatest female player, has announced her retirement less than a month after Australia lost a series to England for the first time since 1963. The two-Test defeat was a disappointing way to end a fabulous career that included two World Cup victories, the most ODI runs in history with 4844, and the highest individual score - 229 not out against Denmark in 1997 - of any player in a limited-overs international.
Clark, who first captained Australia in 1994-95 and led the side for a record 11 Tests and 101 ODIs, will take up the position of Commonwealth Bank Centre of Excellence manager in Brisbane on Monday. Beginning her Test career with a century against India in 1991, Clark finished with 919 runs in 15 games at an average of 45.95 and played 118 limited-overs matches.
In naming her Cricketer of the Year in 1998, Wisden Australia said she was Australia's "finest batswoman to date" with her "her free-flowing, classical style, technical brilliance and aggressive attitude to scoring runs". Her reputation was enhanced over the past seven years until the slip against England, although Australia rebounded to take the five-match one-day series on September 1.
Clark said the time was right to step down and she was confident that Australia would move effortlessly ahead under a new captain. "Playing cricket has been such an enormous part of my life that it's certainly going to be strange not to be pulling on the gear anymore," she said. "I leave the game on the field with a lifetime of memories and I'm pleased that I still have the opportunity to be involved and contribute to Australian cricket through my new role."
Clark ranked winning the World Cup in 2005 and 1997, when Australia beat New Zealand in front of 80,000 at Eden Gardens, as her highlights in a career that started at Newcastle High School. After joining an indoor cricket team - she also won Australian honours in the abbreviated game - Clark moved into a schoolgirl side and was quickly selected for the New South Wales Under-18s. When there were no local women's matches at age 14 she moved into the under-16 boys' competition for a season.
"The women's game is heading in the right direction and is a lot stronger both strategically and operationally than when I first played," she said. "It's really encouraging to see the sport growing, particularly among young girls, and to see exciting new, young talent coming up through the ranks."
James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia chief executive, said Clark was arguably the best female cricketer to play for Australia. "She has represented her club, state and country with enormous pride over the years and her genuine love and passion for the game is quite inspirational," he said. "Belinda is a person of the highest integrity and while we are losing one of our greatest cricketers on the field, we are delighted she will remain as an integral part of Australian cricket."
Clark's replacement will be named for Australia's series against India this summer. After 14 seasons in the side, the hole created by such a wonderful player will be almost impossible to fill.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo