Michael Clarke believes the added responsibility of captaincy has been a factor in his remarkable year as a batsman. Clarke won his third Allan Border Medal in Melbourne on Monday and it was no surprise after a 12-month period in which he topped Australia's run tally in both Test and one-day international cricket, and took over the captaincy from Ricky Ponting.
In contrast, the previous year was much leaner for Clarke, who averaged 31.30 in Test cricket in the 12 months up until last year's Allan Border Medal. The highlights of Clarke's 2011-12 were his triple-century against India at the SCG and his double-hundred in the Adelaide Test two games later, but he made a ton in each of Australia's four Test series and topped the run tally in three of those.
"I think the added responsibility of captaining the team has probably made me stand up and lead from the front," Clarke said. "People see the rewards when you stand up on the big stage, they don't see the hard work you do off the field. When you have the chance to go and bat for Australia in the middle of the SCG or the Adelaide Oval, that's the fun part, that's the part where you just walk out and enjoy yourself because the hard work has been done.
"With some young guys coming in to our team this summer it's been crucial that the senior players have stood up. It's a great reflection when you look at that leadership board for the Allan Border Medal you've got myself, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson - the senior players are on that board and I think that's played a big part in the success we've had over the last 12 months."
And it has been a prosperous year for Clarke's team as well as for himself. He is yet to lose a series as captain and started his tenure in the Test role with victory over Sri Lanka and over the past two months helped his side whitewash India 4-0. But in among those triumphs there have been lower points: their 47 all out in Cape Town and the loss to New Zealand in Hobart in particular.
"I think it could have gone better, definitely," Clarke said of his first year as captain. "I think over the past 12 months we've played some really good cricket but there's been some patches that we'd like to forget as well. I think we're heading in the right direction as a team. When you're the No.1 one-day team in the world it's really hard to stay on top of your game all the time; you have to keep finding new things, new ways to improve. You have to keep working hard, you can't take anything for granted. Getting to the top of the tree is very hard but staying there is even harder.
"The job we face as a Test team is we have three other teams in front of us. We know we have a lot of work to do. We see that every single day with the ICC rankings, we see very clearly where we sit. We have very clear goals there. I think we're a long way from the team we want to be but I do believe we're heading in the right direction."
Clarke won the Allan Border Medal by quite a distance from the second-placed Hussey and Watson, who came in third. Ponting was fourth, followed by the emerging fast man James Pattinson in fifth position and the batsman David Warner, who came sixth.