Michael Clarke walked out of the field after he pulled a hamstring injury against Zimbabwe at Harare on Sunday © AFP

Being one of the last remnants of a rampant Australian team that crushed everything in its path from 1999-2008, Michael Clarke basked and honed his craft amidst silverware galore. R Vishal discusses what lies ahead for the Australian skipper ahead of ICC World Cup 2015, with injuries continuing to play truant.

2013 — it was a defining year in Michael Clarke‘s career. Having rubbed shoulders with some of the best to have graced the game and can stake a claim to be the greatest-ever team to have stepped out on a cricket pitch, Clarke was left with a talented, yet erratic group.

It was not exactly a young group either. Having just about crossed 30 then, he had Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, George Bailey, Shane Watson and co. who were entering that stage where every small dip in form would result in lazy remarks about age. The team’s fortunes, on the other hand nosedived from a team in transition to a team in complete disarray. Results plummeted to new depths; players were dropped/sent home and the once famous Australian ‘mateship’ — where players bond with a pint of beer, talking about the day’s play was replaced by a directionless, confused lot.

Clarke stood tall amidst the ruins. While he never had any prior experience of captaining a side, at youth cricket or for his state, New South Wales, he was the unanimous choice, having been Ricky Ponting’s understudy for years.

Coming from the school of skippers who lead their team by piling big scores, certain characteristics about Clarke as a player and a batsman has seen quite a shift. While 2013 just saw Clarke hopping from one big score to another, Australia were starved of wins. This is where his colossal batting form has taken a backseat to bring back the ‘mateship’ and with it, the winning momentum.

After the humbling from Zimbabwe in the Triangular Series, Clarke criticised his selectors for leaving out Steven Smith, whose superior ability to play spin would have proved handy. The Julio of the team as Glenn McGrath once referred to him as has certainly come a long way. From being the ire of the older lot for his fondness for blond streaks and hair-gels, here is a man who is now a mentor, a leader and has the team’s interests at heart at every step.

With persisting back problems and other niggles proving to be a major stumbling block over the past year, it remains to be seen how far Clarke can push his One-Day International (ODI) career post ICC World Cup 2015. The 33-year old was forced to retire hurt after a gritty half-century in the fateful encounter against Zimbabwe. Does that mean he needs to be handled with kid gloves for the rest of the season? With ‘pup’ soaring new heights as captain over the last few months, Australia needs to cash in. While George Bailey has proved to be more than a handy deputy, the Aussies, sans Clark have looked like a headless chicken.

Even taking personal form into account, new generation stars like Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh making big strides, his own place in the team can be put to doubt. The time is right and being one of the senior figures in the team, it is through his constant presence that Clarke can nurture his team and thereby maintain his form too.

(R Vishal is a journalist, beach lover, Chelsea FC fan and a wannabe globetrotter. Being a loyal student of the Tariq Iqbal school of cricket stopped him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a cricketer. Now, he just writes and talks about the game; He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)