Few get a chance to bow out on a high in cricket and even fewer do so when the chance arises. Australian skipper Michael Clarke played his last ODI against New Zealand on Sunday. The 33-year-old scored 74 and added 112 runs for the third wicket with his likely successor Steve Smith to lift the World Cup 2015. Having guided Australia to their fifth title, Clarke — in an interview with HT's Nilankur Das — described his last day in ODI cricket as a fairytale-like ending. Excerpts from the interview:
As the Test captain you've benefitted from a lot of fantastic bowling performances, especially Mitchell Johnson comes to mind. In ODIs, how do you rate what Mitch Starc was able to do for the whole tournament, and also the fast bowling unit as a whole for the tournament?
Yeah, there's no doubt that I think Starcky deserves the Man of the Series award. I think he's been exceptional. Our whole attack has, to be honest. I think that's no coincidence why we sit here as World Cup winners tonight (Sunday night). Our bowlers have won us the World Cup... our batters have stood up and grabbed their opportunities. But I think our bowling performances in every single game has been exceptional, probably none better than today (Sunday).
How is it to walk away from ODI cricket -- the biggest trophy, a half century? Could you have asked for anything more?
No, look, I said yesterday (Saturday) that I thought it was the right time. Now I know it's the right time. I think obviously there's no such thing as fairy tales in sport, but that's probably as close as it gets for me. Not only to win a World Cup but to win in front of your home fans. And there was a lot of expectation, there was a lot of added pressure: the fact that we're playing in Australia in front of our home fans. I think the boys soaked that up from day one and loved every minute of it. I said after our semifinal that mentally, we were ready for this final. I think we showed that today (Sunday). The whole squad deserves a lot of credit. Every single player has played a big part in us having success, and we've worked really hard. I think even today, once we bowled New Zealand out, six or seven of the guys went to the nets for a hit in the lead-up to our batting innings just to make sure they were as well prepared as they could be and be ready to chase those 180 runs. It shows the discipline... Yeah, I'm extremely proud, and really happy with how the day panned out. I think New Zealand deserve a lot of credit for the way they played throughout this tournament. We have the utmost respect for that team, and I guess my relationship with Brendon (McCullum) is very close, and I wish them all the best for the future. But it was a great final. I think the two best teams in the World Cup were in the final, and just happened to be our day today.
What did you do that was special when you celebrated? And secondly, the MCG is such a big ground that it kind of makes it apt for you as a batsman because it was more crafting than smashing the ball around. Would you agree?
I thought I smashed them today (Sunday). No, I'm only kidding. Pretty much, as you've seen the lap of honour to thank all of our fans. I think that was really important that we went out of our way to thank the supporters. The support we've had throughout the whole tournament has been fantastic, and I do believe that's played a big part in us having success. I said that after the Ashes, and I believe this tournament is no different. Then we were in the change room celebrating together and then I had to leave and go and get drug tested. I've got plenty of time to get back into that change room and celebrate with the team. I don't think we'll do too much tonight. I think we'll stay in there and spend some time together. We've worked really hard as a group, and I think it's important in times like these you celebrate together.
The MCG is a beautiful ground, one of my favourite grounds to play on. I probably personally haven't had as much success on that ground as I would have liked, especially in Test cricket... I think there probably wasn't as many runs scored today as people would have liked to have seen, but I still believe the game was entertaining, and that's what happens when you're playing against two good bowling attacks.
Ian Smith, the commentator, said on air that before the Australian team was here he saw you on the ground for some reason. Could you tell us what that was about?
Normally, I come to the ground earlier than the team so I can get my own personal preparation done. So once the team arrives, I'm able to worry about every other player. I've done that my whole captaincy in Test cricket and ODI cricket; so today (Sunday) was no different. I like to get here, make sure my body is warm, look at the wicket, and then go and do my batting in the nets before the boys arrive.
The reception that you received when you walked off, how special was that, for you personally?
Yeah, it's been really special to be honest. Like I said, even announcing my retirement from ODI cricket yesterday (Saturday), I really didn't want to take anything away from the team. Yeah, so even tonight (Sunday night), it's still - you know, that was very special for me personally, but again, I really wanted to run off the field, so I didn't take that - I wanted that applause for the team. But we got that. I think the way the crowd hung around for us to raise that trophy, the World Cup trophy, I think was very special for all the players. Yeah, it's been, like I say, 245 games for my country, I've been absolutely blessed. I couldn't ask to have been a part of any better team, whether when I started my career, when I won the World Cup in 2007 or when we won tonight (Sunday night), I've played with some unbelievable players, and this team is no different. This team is full of amazing talent. I think at the end of a lot of their careers they'll be greats of the game. I certainly can't ask for anything more.
Just the black armband that you wear and everything that the boys went through four months ago, how proud are you that they actually managed to pull this off, given how it started?
Yeah, it makes it more special, there's no doubt about it. I think Hughesy (Phil Hughes) is thought about and spoken about on a daily basis. I think probably the last couple of months for me personally, it's probably been harder than when he first passed away. I've been in regular contact with his sister and his family. And I know they would have been watching tonight (Sunday night). I guess that's what makes it so special, that we are still thinking about him. We are still talking about him, and we always will. Like I say, I won't play another game, I cer;ainly won't play a Test match without his Test number on my hat, and I'll wear this black armband for the rest of my career. You know, we've spoken about it as a team. We believe we played this World Cup with 16 players in our squad, and that will continue for the rest of my career, that's for sure.
Following on from that, how exhausted are you and the team with the sort of emotional energy that's been put into this summer? It started way back in November, and the things that have happened, do you feel like everyone has just put everything on the field?
I believe the boys have been exceptional the whole summer, there's no doubt about it. I think there's definitely some tired players in that change room. It definitely is the end of our summer. But yeah, the summer has been different because it's not just about the physical side of the game. I think we've all experienced the mental side and the emotion of what's happened, and I guess that's why the boys deserve even more credit, to be able to continue to get up every single day and want to perform and help the team have success with that emotion that runs through your body. You know, I think through the whole World Cup, I made it very clear that it was going to be skill, not emotion that won us the World Cup, and I think a lot of the things I've said in press conferences have actually been for myself. I'm saying it out loud so I can hear it myself, and I think that's probably one of the main things I've been saying, skill over emotion will win the World Cup for us, and I think I've needed to hear that, as well. I've needed to say it out loud because it has been emotional, there's no doubt about it. To fight my backside off and work as hard as I possibly have to get back into the team, number one, after surgery, and then I guess to deal with what we've all dealt with over the last few months and to win a World Cup in front of your home fans, it's taken amazing discipline from all the players, a lot of hard work, and it's a fitting reward, like I say, for the pain everyone has gone through.
Shane Watson and Glenn Maxwell have swapped around a little bit, but was there any significance with Shane coming out there at the end, I suppose the stage he's at with his career, as well?
Not at all. Once he moved from No. 3, he was batting 5 every game. There was just a couple of games I batted Maxie in front of him because of the situation of the game, but no, he was batting 5 the whole time.
I wanted to ask you since now you've retired from ODIs, there will be a window of opportunity for you probably. How are you looking at it? Apart from Test cricket, will you be presenting yourself as participant in the T20 leagues across the world?
I haven't thought too much about it, to be honest. I spoke at the start of the World Cup when there was some talk about the Melbourne Stars and I said I wanted to concentrate on this World Cup and nothing has changed. I think now that the World Cup is over, I've had some time to have a think about what I want to do there. I'm still really excited about Test cricket, and then I'll have a think about the T20 format moving forward. Yeah, I don't want to rush away from this feeling right now and this moment. I want to enjoy over the next few days, I want to enjoy what we've achieved as a team. I want to enjoy what I've achieved as an ODI cricketer for Australia, and then I'll have a think about things and assess then.
I just wondered why you were so vociferous in some of the send-offs you gave to the New Zealand batsmen.
Vociferous? I don't think I gave a send-off to any New Zealand batsmen.
Not you personally but the team generally. It was noticed and commentated on. I was just wondering if there was any reason for it.
I can't remember a player getting a send-off. Maybe I was too far from the action. Obviously, it's a World Cup final. There's passion, there's excitement, there's adrenaline running through the guys' bodies. Like I've said my whole career, you cop as good as you give. I know this team has copped a fair bit of stick throughout this World Cup. Boys have got long memories. Maybe there was something there. I'm not too sure. But I don't think there was anything that was below the belt, so to say.
You mentioned yesterday (Saturday) that your legacy will be what your teammates think of you, but just in terms of on the park and looking at the next World Cup, how well placed do you think you leave the team, the aggression that everyone plays with and some of the young stars there?
Yeah, look, I think that's always been a part of the Australian teams I've been involved in. I think it's about trying to take wickets as a bowler. It's about trying to score runs as a batsman. I guess the rules of ODI cricket these days have probably allowed my captaincy style to be as aggressive as I like to be, the fact you only have four fielders out. I think you have to try and take wickets. If there's wickets in hand I think the last 15, 20 overs of an ODI match can be so destructive for the batting team, so that's probably allowed me to be nice and positive with my captaincy. I think the team is in a great place. I think they'll continue to have success. I think they'll continue to get better. I think that talent will not just be talent, it'll be consistent performance. I think, like I said, I think it's the right time for me to go now. I think this team is ready to move forward and continue to have a lot of success all around the world.
Given you said you didn't want the retirement to take the shine off the World Cup win, why did you announce it the day before and not the day after?
Because I think tomorrow's (Monday's) press is going to be about the team, and if I announce it tonight (Sunday night), then tomorrow's (Monday's) press wouldn't have been about the team. I've probably taken one day of media rather than a week of it. I'm hoping the next week is full of positive things about every single player in that change room and what they've achieved in this tournament. But you guys will dictate that.
I know you're so well versed in talking about the team, but if you could put that to one side for one moment, considering what you've been through this summer in terms of Phil Hughes' death and obviously the hamstrings and the rehab and all the sort of work leading into the summer and especially this tournament, do you feel this is probably your proudest achievement or the thing you're most proud of?
I think my proudest achievement in my career was making a hundred at the Adelaide Oval in that Test match, but this is as special as it gets. I've been fortunate I won - I was part of the team that won the World Cup in 2007. I've won two Ashes campaigns 5-0. I don't think it's fair to compare. For me personally, that hundred in Adelaide is the most special day in my life. This is a magnificent feeling, there's no doubt about it, and it's because the team has been through so much and we're able to still walk out onto that cricket field and perform.
Since you made your debut in 2002, Australia have won three World Cups, two Champions Trophies. What is it that makes you so hard to beat in the big games?
I think the Australian way has always been about the big games. I think it's probably something I learned at a young age, that the big players always stood up in major tournaments. You know, they weren't scared of losing. They always wanted to bowl or wanted to bat in that big tournament, and I guess I was probably lucky enough to grow up in a team that had six, seven, eight of those players that wanted the ball, that wanted the bat on that stage. That's probably something that I hope I've been able to do through my career when the team has needed me, stand up and perform, and I think there's a lot of players in this current change room that now love that, as well, and I think we showed that today on the biggest stage. With as much expectation and pressure as you have on you in your career playing a World Cup final in front of your home fans, every single player wanted to bowl or wanted to bat or wanted to take that catch. It's a special feeling. I think I've been really fortunate as captain to be able to turn to so many of the players under pressure and they want that opportunity.
It feels like decades ago now, but cast your mind back to the 2013 Champions Trophy and the last ICC event in this format that the Australian team played, getting knocked out in the first round, and the journey to now, and what do you think were the key points along that journey to get the improvement that you got?
I can't remember it to be honest. I think I was in London injured, couldn't move out of my bed. I just think we've got better every day. I think our attitude has been unbelievable. The way we've trained, our preparation has been spot on, the discipline the players have shown to try and get better. I think that's why we've had consistent success over the last couple of years.
Just one on the ODI playing additions. I know you said earlier in the tournament that you weren't going to see which ones you'd like to see changed. You're done now; now you can.
I guess what I really loved growing up was I loved five fielders out rather than four fielders out. I think it gives the bowlers more of a chance. I think it brings spin a lot more into the game. The only thing is it probably means the runs scored aren't going to be as high as what they have been throughout this tournament. But I like that extra fielder out for the bowlers, especially these days, the wickets are pretty good for batting. And I've always liked reverse swing playing a big part in any format of the game, and I think two new balls probably takes that out of the game. You don't see as much reverse swing. I think back to when I started my career, that was two areas of the game that it was quite hard. It's hard to score when you walk in to bat on zero and the ball is reverse swinging, it gives the bowlers a chance of getting you out early. So yeah, they're probably two of my personal preferences that I really enjoyed through my career. I probably bowled a few more overs in those five fielders out, as well. But look, I think the ICC deserve a lot of credit for how entertaining the cricket has been. I think because of the rule changes you've seen some unbelievable performances, you've seen the game change or evolve. Guys making 200 in ODIs is phenomenal. I think the rule changes have certainly played a part in that happening.
I mentioned yesterday (Saturday) names like Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Aussie World Cup winning captains. It's not a bad list to be in, especially in your last ODI. History tells us you guys have won five World Cups in five different continents. I suppose the icing on the cake for you as skipper was to do it in front of the G, in front of 85,000 fans as you mentioned. Is that the best note you can sign off on?
I don't think I can leave on a better note. Like I say, there's no such thing as fairy-tales, but it's as close as it gets for me personally. Yeah, the amazing captains you're talking about, I certainly don't see myself in the same light as those captains. All I can say is it's been an honour and a privilege to not only play for this country but to have the chance to captain Australia is something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. I've enjoyed every single minute of it in the one-day form. Hopefully it continues in Test cricket. This game has been so good to me, and I'm extremely grateful, and I'll forever pay that back. I've started my own cricket academy, so I want to see boys and girls have the same opportunities if not better opportunities than I had to play this great game. I'll continue to follow the one day game and support the Australian players and all the cricketers around the world. Yeah, I've been blessed to have the opportunities I've had.
Obviously every player, whatever he wants to do, there's a basic object or aim that you aspire for, and maybe for your ODI career it was to win the World Cup. But what next for you now? Test matches, Australia is No. 2 in the rankings, so obviously is that the end of Michael Clarke, the international cricketer, Australian No. 1 team, and how are you going to go about it?
My goal is definitely to try and help the Test team to get back to No. 1. We've got some really tough cricket ahead of us, West Indies tour and obviously the Ashes, and then some tough cricket back in Australia, as well. For me, right now, I want to enjoy this moment. Yeah, I think by walking away from ODIs, hopefully, it will prolong my Test career, means I can play for longer, but I've got to perform and I've got to win games for Australia. That's my goal. It always has been, and if I can help the team get back to No. 1 and have success in our next few tours and back in Australia, then I'll assess it after that. But yeah, I'm only 33. I've still got plenty of time - well, I'm hopeful I've still got plenty of time left, but I think my performance will dictate that. I've got to be making runs. I've got to be enjoying it. When the time is right, though, I'll make sure I'm gone hopefully at the right time. I don't want to stand in any player's way. If I can't help the team have success, then my time is up. But you know, I've been playing this great game since I was seven years of age. I'm going to enjoy hopefully a little bit more free time to be able to spend with my family and be at home. Yeah, there's plenty of things I'd like to do in regards to business, as well, outside of cricket, and I think this probably gives me a little opportunity to step into that world and enjoy some stuff outside the game, as well.