I have always put the team first, says retiring Michael Clarke

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Melbourne, March 28: Set to retire from one-day cricket after tomorrow's ICC World Cup final against New Zealand here, Michael Clarke today said that his legacy as Australia's ODI captain will be determined by what his teammates thought of him and his conduct after team-mate Phillip Hughes passed away in November last.

World Cup Special; Match Preview: Your guide to final

Clarke, who has been quite emotional of late post Hughes' death, was calmness personified as the pre-World Cup final media interaction turned out into a retirement conference. He fielded each and every query, stating that there was "no pressure on him" and the "decision to retire was taken 48 hours back" and how he still maintained that ultimate pinnacle for Australian sportsman is to "represent the country in Test cricket".

Clarke (left) shakes handes with NZ captain Brendon McCullum after posing in front of World Cup trophy on Saturday

The most quotable of his quotes was that "the game owes me nothing and I owe the game everything." Asked to define his legacy as he prepares for his final hurrah in ODIs at the MCG tomorrow, Clarke said, "I think your legacy is dictated by what your teammates think of you, to be honest.

"I think I've shown through my career in any format that I've always put the team first. I think a lot of my legacy will be based around what happened recently off the field with my little brother (Hughes)," said Clarke who will continue to play Test cricket. (McCullum requests Indian fans to support NZ)

For Clarke, the World Cup final is a special occasion but it does not add to the fact that he will be calling time on his limited overs international career.

"I will train no harder today. I will study New Zealand no harder than I did last time we played them. I will sleep no worse tonight than I ever do. I'll be no less nervous before I walk out to bat. The feeling is exactly the same. It is special, and I've been fortunate enough to play in two previous World Cups and win one of those. So I know what the feeling is like," said the New South Wales man who turns 34 on April 2.

There has been speculation that Cricket Australia was set to tell Clarke the bitter truth about his ODI future and that he might have drained both physically and emotionally with runs drying up and repeatedly being questioned about his place in the team.

'Prolong my Test career'

But Clarke denied that he was emotionally drained and said that it's a decision taken to prolong his career in Test
cricket.

"No, not at all. I don't think that's the case (emotional drain out). I think it's the right time for me to go. Like I said, a lot of it is about giving the next captain the opportunity and the team the opportunity to prepare, and the selectors, as well, to work out what they feel is their best squad for the next World Cup," said Clarke who has played 244 ODIs, scoring 7907 runs at an average of 44.42 with eight hundreds and 57 half-centuries.

Clarke wants to prolong his Test career

"I leave the ODI team in a better place than when I took over the captaincy, and it gives me my best chance of prolonging my Test career. These are the three main reasons of why I've decided to walk away from ODIs," the skipper explained.

Since Clarke had earlier said that "he was not sure whether this would be his last World Cup", the Australian mediapersons asked as to when exactly did he decided to call it quits and what prompted him to arrive at that decision.

'Retirement decision made 48 hours ago'

"I think about 48 hours ago, I made the decision that I don't think I will last for four years till next World Cup and
that answered a lot of questions for me. Then it was about obviously speaking to my family, yeah, and working out what I think, again, is best for the team. I think there's no doubt I could keep playing for the next couple of years," Clarke said of what he thought about his future as Test batsman.

Asked what he was doing 48 hours ago when he exactly arrived at the decision, Clarke had a pregnant pause before replying.

"When I made the decision? I think when I left the Sydney Cricket Ground (after SCG semi-final), I think I got back to my house at about 12:30 am and I think Kyly (wife) was in bed. I think that's when I spoke to her about it. So yeah, it was at that time," he said.

Asked if he's feeling fine or a bit emotional, Clarke was quick to cut that question short. "No, I'm fine, I'm completely fine. I'm very happy, like I said. I've said from day one that the game owes me nothing, I owe the game everything, and I've been really fortunate in my life to be where I am today because of the game of cricket. Look, I know I've made the right decision. I told my teammates 10 minutes ago. I told the selectors and James Sutherland about an hour ago," he said.

Clarke emphatically denied that it ever crossed his mind to do the opposite and quit Tests and continue playing ODIs. He emphasised on how he still wants to lead the team in Test matches.

'Test cricket is the pinnacle'

"I've never hid behind the fact that I find Test cricket to be the pinnacle of our sport. I don't feel bad about saying that I believe Test cricket is the toughest part of our game. I love that challenge. I found it extremely difficult to play every of those Test matches. I still think I've got a lot to offer the team as captain of the Australian Test team. I think Test cricket is the ultimate for an Australian sportsman. Long may that continue."

He said that he did not know how long the older guys like Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson, Brad Haddin will continue but as long as they play, it should be for the right reasons.

For Clarke, Test cricket is the pinnacle

"I have no idea how long a lot of the guys are going to continue to play for. I think the greatest thing cricket being a team sport is that the individual has the opportunity to assess how they feel, how they see things and make that decision," he said.

"I think everybody in that room has a lot more cricket left in their body. That's for sure. If the desire is still there and they're playing for the right reasons, then I don't see any reason why they would stop. I haven't spoken to any of them about their individual decisions, how they feel, what they're going to do," said Clarke.

Walking down the memory lane, Clarke spoke about the privilege of having represented country, of playing alongside greats like Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

'We can beat NZ in final'

Asked how special it's to captain Australia in a World Cup final, Clarke said, "As special as it's been my whole captaincy career, to be honest. I always dreamt of playing cricket for Australia and for New South Wales. I never dreamt of captaining Australia, and to have this opportunity and privilege has been better than I could have imagined. And I've been very fortunate.

"I've played with some amazing players, some of the all-time greats of the game, and I've learned a lot from those guys, and I hope that I've been able to pass a lot of that on to the younger generation, as well, to a lot of the players that I play with now. You know, tomorrow will be exactly the same as it's been every single time I've walked out onto the field to play cricket for Australia. Extremely special," the skipper said.

Call it funny but finally there was a question on Australia's chances in the tournament and 'Captain Clarke' came to the fore as different from soon-to-be-retired Clarke.

"I believe if we play our best, we can beat New Zealand tomorrow. I don't buy into the favourites or not favourites. New Zealand have been the form team of the competition. New Zealand have beaten us once in this tournament. But I'm confident if we play our best, we can beat them tomorrow," said Clarke.

PTI

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