Clarke clears decks to leave Smith the chance to shine bright

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When it all comes down to it, the 2015 Ashes series was decided by one woeful - or euphoric - session, depending on who you support.

That it is an exclamation mark on Michael Clarke's Test captaincy and career is unfortunate - but relatively fair if it reflects his time in enemy territory, where he failed to win back the urn as captain in the motherland.

Clarke leaves a sturdy legacy, nonetheless, showing aggressive captaincy and a resilience that knew no bounds - epitomised by his maiden and final two Test centuries of his famed career.

While nowhere near his biggest, his debut 151 in Bangalore, unbeaten 161 in Cape Town and 128 in Adelaide will be remembered among his finest innings due to the circumstances in which they were made.

With Australia losing 3-25 to be 149-4 in the first Test against India in 2004, Clarke strode to the crease and promptly showed why he was one of the best players of spin in the modern era to lead the tourists to a stirring victory.

It later emerged he batted in the second Test against South Africa last year with a broken shoulder, while against India at the Adelaide Oval later in 2014, it was a broken heart driving him, a wearisome back and waves of criticism inhibiting him.

He defied the lot to triumph - Australia's series win in South Africa proving to be their best win away from home in Clarke's reign, although the credit largely went the way of Ryan Harris, who was by no means undeserving of it.

In Adelaide, Clarke hobbled and hassled his way to three figures on the last home ground of his late mate Phillip Hughes - despite retiring hurt on 60, he returned to salute him in the best way possible.

His failure to score a century in away Test series against Pakistan (in the United Arab Emirates) and England was telling - only once previously in his four-year captaincy period had he not scored three figures in an away series (West Indies 2012).

Sadly for Clarke's legacy, his time in England was not memorable - a knock of 187 in Manchester two years ago was his only major showing with the bat.

Just two Test wins - including one in this year's dead rubber - is a poor return from two tours as captain, which started with a David Warner jab and effectively ended with Stuart Broad's knockout blow at Trent Bridge.

So now Clarke and Chris Rogers have departed, and likely several others will follow to become past propositions, where to now for Steve Smith's Australia?

Smith has three very winnable Test series to begin his full-time tenure, with a two-Test tour of Bangladesh preceding home rubbers against New Zealand and West Indies.

Of those three series, only the contest with New Zealand is likely to hold any great importance for many Australia fans, so it serves as a trial period of sorts for Smith to suss out his XI - with Mitch Marsh set to be his new all-rounder, and brother Shaun the front-runner for Rogers' spot.

Awaiting in the ranks are Cameron Bancroft, fresh off an innings of 150 for Australia A on the sub-continent and a strong Sheffield Shield season in 2014-15, the unlucky Usman Khawaja and run-machine Peter Handscomb to name a few.

Adam Voges must be given more time - and will be - after an underwhelming Ashes campaign, which saw him begin to look more comfortable on the Test scene with half-centuries in the final two matches.

Mitchell Johnson will probably make it through a farewell tour of the Australian summer, handing his full-time left-arm reins to Mitchell Starc - while Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson can form the basis of a formidable long-term attack.

While Hazlewood was sloppy in England, he is just 24 years old and promising, while Pattinson, 25, and Cummins, 22, just need to get their respective bodies right to flourish.

Despite yet another failure to succeed in England, it is not all doom-and-gloom for the Australians - and Smith has the ideal opportunity to begin his era with a string of wins.


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