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Summer of cricket begins

Our cricket experts preview the first Test between Australia and South Africa at the Gabba.

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AUSTRALIAN coach Mickey Arthur has compared the leadership credentials of Michael Clarke to those of his former on-field pit-bull Graeme Smith, saying the pair share the kind of aura that can inspire their sides to greatness.

Arthur has a unique insight into both men, having coached South Africa in 2005-2010 and watching Smith develop from a seemingly desperate appointment as a 22-year-old skipper in 2003 to one of the most prolific captains of the modern era.

Smith is revered by South Africans, not just because of his average of almost 50 in 102 Tests, but the manner in which he has stubbornly transformed the Proteas from an emerging nation to the best team in the world.

From left: Josh Hazlewood, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Ed Cowan, Peter Siddle and Rick Ponting.

From left: Josh Hazlewood, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Ed Cowan, Peter Siddle and Ricky Ponting. Photo: Getty Images

Clarke, meanwhile, has won his first five series' in charge since taking over from Ricky Ponting after the 2011 World Cup and been praised for his adventurous tactics and attacking intent.

With just 15 Tests in the driver's seat, Clarke has a long way to go to emulate the feats of Smith, a straight-shooting opener noted for his toughness and raw aggression as a player and a leader.

In a flattering assessment, Arthur said he could make the comparison between Smith and Clarke, with both men able to command a room and lead by their actions in the middle.

“He's a phenomenal leader,” Arthur said of Smith. “He's got an aura about him. He gets stuck in. When he talks, people listen. And those are the qualities of all good leaders.

“Michael Clarke's exactly the same. He really is. When Pup walks in, there's a definite aura about him. He talks, people sit up and listen. He has that ability to make people listen.”

From the outside looking in, Clarke and Smith share few similarities. Smith is a man's man with few subtleties in his game or his manner.

Clarke, whose toughness has long been underrated, is still trying to completely shake his reputation as a playboy, with a penchant for fast cars, model girlfriends and designer ink.

But Arthur said they were both driven by a fierce desire to compete and both were at the heart and soul of their sides, tending to rise and fall in tune with their skippers. “They're very, very similar characters. There are definite parallels between Smithy and Pup,” Arthur said. “I think they're both very positive leaders. I think they are both guys that lead by example. Both prepare meticulously. When they both play well, generally the teams they skipper are successful."

Clarke was part of the Australian side that fell on home soil in 2008-09, a watershed moment in South African cricket, hailed by Arthur at the time as an achievement that would change the Protea cricket for 100 years. Australia returned serve quickly with a 2-1 series victory in South Africa before Clarke was in command during the hectic two-Test series at the end of 2011.

He cracked 151 during the first Test in Cape Town, which South Africa won by eight wickets, before Australia hit back at The Wanderers. Smith has a habit of ending the careers of rival captains. Victories against the English has seen him run Nasser Hussain (2003), Michael Vaughan (2008) and Andrew Strauss (2012) into retirement.

Even a whitewash in the three-Test series would make that scenario unlikely in Australia, given Clarke's winning start and vital contribution with the bat.

Still, the Australian leader will not want to become another statistic in Smith's colossus of a career.