This time last year, Michael Clarke knew he had to get better. Then, when he became captain, he knew he had to make the team better.
He approached Duncan Kerr, a long-time friend and fitness trainer who has worked for Cricket NSW, at the SCG as a rooms manager and as a masseur with the Australian team.
''He said, 'Dunc, I really want to start my new career, so to speak, on the right foot. I want to get myself right, mentally and physically, can you come up with a plan?''' Kerr recalled.
The pair's private boot camp at Coffs Harbour was one of the first steps in Clarke's remaking, which prepared him for a year of personal run-making and team success, coincided with the rehabilitation of his public image, and culminated with his third Allan Border Medal win on Monday night. ''We took two mountain bikes up with us and the idea was to train three times a day,'' Kerr said.
''We shared an apartment, cooked all our own food and made sure our diet was perfect so we could maximise the results we were getting. We trekked up a hill through banana plantations and I gave him a couple of little mental exercises for when he gets fatigued, tried to put him under a bit of pressure and see how he went. He performed brilliantly.''
Kerr believes the physical and mental exercises Clarke subjected himself to before his first series as captain helped prepare him for the long hours he has put in at the crease since, including his glorious innings of 329 not out in Sydney, an achievement of incredible endurance and concentration, backed up later with a double century in Adelaide.
He didn't touch a bat in Coffs Harbour, but before and afterwards adopted a relentless work ethic in the nets. He hadn't been alone in failing during the Ashes disaster, but did not pass 20 in seven out of nine innings in that series, and knew he had to perform soon, and often, to justify his place in the team, let alone earn acceptance as a new captain.
He gave himself some breathing space by retiring from Twenty20, to devote more time to his preparation for one-day internationals and Tests and the extra responsibilities that came with being captain. He reconnected with his boyhood batting coach, Neil D'Costa, and many drills were based around his defence, surviving the first 20 balls that had been tough to negotiate against England. He insisted on facing Australia's quicks with new balls at training.
While Kerr was his personal boot master, Clarke continued working with Cricket Australia physiotherapist Alex Kountouris and strength and conditioning coach Stuart Karppinen to minimise the grief caused by his chronic back condition.
''I thought fitness was a huge part of my game and I went to Coffs Harbour … to get my body in a position that it was going to handle the amount of cricket I was going to play over the 12-month period,'' he said yesterday. ''I think mentally I probably just had my goals quite clear in my head of what I wanted to achieve, where I wanted to take the team and what I thought I needed to do to help stay in the team, perform at the highest level and lead from the front on the field.''
A concerted effort was made by Clarke, his management and CA to remake his image, but runs and wins have undoubtedly helped to turn around a hard-to-please Australian public. Having parted with the model girlfriend, the Aston Martin and flash address, people saw a good and imaginative captain and an excellent batsman who cared about his team.
With his exceptional first year as captain, Clarke has set himself a tough act to follow. The new captain's 1167 Test runs at 68.64 during the Allan Border Medal voting period were accompanied by seven wins from 12 Tests and series victories against Sri Lanka and India. ''I don't plan to go backwards, that's for sure,'' Clarke said yesterday.