Auckland, Feb 27: New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum said he was in awe of Michael Clarke for the manner in which the Australian skipper coped with the tragic death of team-mate and close friend Phillip Hughes.
Hughes died on November 27 last year, two days after being hit by a Sean Abbott bouncer in a first-class match in Sydney, leaving the whole cricket world in mourning.
"I think we saw during the tragic circumstances around Phil Hughes' passing how strong a leader he (Clarke) is and the way that he carried himself and the way that he spoke on behalf of the team," said McCullum of Clarke ahead of co-hosts' World Cup clash on Saturday.
"I think that earned adulation and respect from not just Australian people, but also people around the world. We were certainly in awe of how he was able to handle himself during that time.
"I think he's very much the leader of that team. We are very respectful of that and I think they are strengthened for his inclusion back in the side," said McCullum of Clarke's return after a hamstring operation.
Clarke last played an international match in December last year, against India in the Adelaide Test. His return was delayed after Australia's second game in the World Cup was rained off in Brisbane last Saturday having been deemed not fully recovered for the first match against England on February 14.
"I've got a great relationship with Brendon and I've obviously played a lot of cricket against him. I have the utmost respect for the people of New Zealand and the way especially Brendon and his team, they showed that extra respect to Phillip and Phillip's family," said Clarke.
New Zealand abandoned the second day's play in the Sharjah Test against Pakistan as a mark of respect for Hughes.