How will cricket remember Michael Clarke?

Who is Michael Clarke?

The truth is that after 12 years, more than a hundred Tests and a mountain of runs that put him in the upper echelon of batsmanship, we still don’t know.

Nor, perhaps, will we after he retires.

Clarke’s legacy depends on how you view him.

As a batsman, he seemed to have it all.

He scored a century on debut in Bangalore, a joyous, uninhibited announcement that here was someone special; an heir to Ponting’s kingdom.

He confirmed it with a century in his first home Test in Brisbane six weeks later. The path to greatness stretched ahead of him.

By the time he reached his thirties the kid called Pup had matured into the world’s premier batsman.

The high-water mark came in 2012, when he amassed 1595 Test runs, including a monumental triple century against India on his home ground at the SCG.

But in what has turned out to be his final season, much of it has turned to dust. Or ashes.

The danger is that he will be remembered not for his dancing feet but his ungainly dismissals in the 2015 Ashes.

History suggests this won’t happen – Ponting, Steve Waugh and Allan Border all faced protestations they hung on for too long but are remembered as legends of the sport.

As a captain, Clarke moulded a side that was at a low ebb after suffering a rare home Ashes loss in 2010-11.

He did not have the luxury of throwing the ball to Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, but was as fiercely competitive and aggressive as any of his predecessors.

The skipper rebuilt his team to the point where they downed England 5-0 in 2013-14 then defeated world No.1 Test side South Africa 2-1 away.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, especially in India during ‘homework-gate’.

There were schisms and spats – just ask Shane Watson.

But Clarke would always be a source of support for teammates on the field.

Look at how Nathan Lyon prospered.

Lyon, who has only known one Test captain, developed from whipping boy to one of the world’s best spinners.

The 27-year-old recently recalled Clarke’s advice prior to his debut.

“Back your skill. No matter what happens, I’ve got your back,” he said.

Lyon responded accordingly.

Many of Clarke’s more unedifying episodes as captain came in defence of teammates.

Vulgar threats were made to Jimmy Anderson at the Gabba in 2013 because the English paceman was chipping George Bailey.

Words that so deeply offended Dale Steyn slipped out in anger in 2014 because the South African spearhead was rowing with James Pattinson.

The run-ins were part of a public persona that can only be described as complex.

Clarke tried to be many things to many people, but somehow always seemed to polarise the game’s public.

Much of it was borne out of a relationship with Lara Bingle, which ended publicly and acrimoniously in 2010.

Many will remember reports of a ring being thrown down the toilet of Clarke’s plush Bondi apartment, not that he scored a century against New Zealand in the first chance to make a statement with the bat after the break-up.

It was so often the way with Clarke.

Take for example a post-match row with Simon Katich, which came after Clarke scored 138 to put Australia on track for victory against South Africa at the SCG in 2009.

However, Clarke didn’t always help himself in this regard.

A stiff upper lip would have ensured friction with selectors last year was kept largely behind closed doors.

Instead it was on back pages across the country.

The extent of a fall-out with former close friend Andrew Symonds showed when the former allrounder was one of the first to have a go at Clarke in the past fortnight.

Clarke either craved or hated the attention, depending on who you asked.

“My legacy will be dictated by others,” he said last week.

“For me it was about giving everything I had to the team and I think I’ve done that.”

That’s certainly hard to argue with.

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