To understand how far Michael Clarke has come, you need to go back to the dressing rooms at the WACA Ground three years ago.
It was the last time England toured, and Clarke's patchy form throughout that series mirrored that of his team.
Australia eventually won the Perth Test, keeping the series alive, but rumours of a confrontation in the sheds between captain Ricky Ponting and Clarke, his vice-captain, gathered momentum as the Ashes roadshow rolled on to Melbourne. Sources in the team spoke of Clarke angrily complaining about the green top at the WACA Ground, specifically to young opener Phil Hughes, who is one of Clarke's closest friends.
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Ponting was far from impressed with his deputy bringing such negative talk into the team environment. Word of the incident reached the pointy end of the Cricket Australia hierarchy and they were as unhappy as Ponting.
"His head was not in the right space during that Ashes series," says one former teammate from that time. "It's good to see where his head is now."
The remark doesn't come close to explaining the transformation of Michael John Clarke, the rock-star cricketer who came good.
Captain knocked: Michael Clarke celebrates victory over England at the Adelaide Oval. Photo: Getty Images
Here he stands, on the eve of his 100th Test, having crafted timeless centuries in the first two matches of the series, knocking on the door of an expected victory that will deliver Australia the urn for the first time in seven years.
But it's more than that. With the possible exception of his other close friend Shane Warne, no Australian cricketer has been so maligned for being the man so many people think they know.
Unlike Warne, countless presumptions have been made about Clarke's actions off the field, and how that reflects the character he displays on it.
Fans hold up a banner referring to Michael Clarke's decision to quit the tour of New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
"There's a hardness about him that's been evident in these first two Tests," former captain Allan Border offered earlier this week.
Former teammate Adam Gilchrist reckons there's a "trend change" in the way his teammates and the Australian public view the kid from the fibro suburbs of Sydney's west who, according to perception, and sections of the media, lost sight of who he really is.
If Channel Nine's stump mic hadn't picked up his broken arm pledge to England's Jimmy Anderson, would they say the same thing?
Clarke with former flame Lara Bingle. Photo: James Alcock
"Nothing's different," insists close friend and celebrity accountant Anthony Bell. "It's not like he's woken up for this Test series and said he wants to be more competitive. But I think he's genuinely happy with the man he is. Everyone wants to be liked and respected. Michael thinks if you can't be liked, he wants to be respected."
Clarke has been working his entire career towards this moment. How many thought he would get here? And respect him this much?
The first time I interviewed Clarke was more than a decade ago at his newly bought McMansion at Breakfast Point in Sydney's inner west. Featuring a widescreen television and a pool table with striking red felt, his bachelor pad on steroids followed his enormous deal with Slazenger.
Clarke was yet to play a Test, but it was accepted knowledge that he'd play many of them.
The hot topic of the time was who would replace Steve Waugh as Australian captain – Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne or Gilchrist? – and as we watched Inside Cricket on Fox Sports the latter was asked that very question. "I wish they'd just hurry up and give it to Michael Clarke," Gilchrist joked.
Clarke looked at me. "Don't put that bit in," he smiled.
His career went to script from there. He scored 151 on debut on Indian soil in 2004, with his grandparents in the crowd adding to the fairytale. On that tour, as the fresh, young upstart of the side, he playfully leapt into the arms and onto the shoulders of his older teammates like he was a little labrador. They called him "Pup".
The souring of Clarke's relationship with the public came two years later as he walked the red carpet amid A-list company, sporting tattoos and gelled hair with bikini model Lara Bingle on his arm.
With a Ferrari in the garage, some media commentators were quick to point out he'd sold out on his working-class background. Much of that invective came from News Ltd, and anyone within cricket's inner circle will tell you that his recent deal to become a columnist for the media company was a strategic move to stop the hate.
Clarke has told me on numerous occasions that, yes, he's sensitive to criticism but, yes, he knows it goes with the territory.
He's known to read every word about him – a throwaway line among some cricket roundsmen is that he Googles his own name – but sometimes the reportage is plain wrong.
Take the time he controversially abandoned the tour of New Zealand in March 2010 to break off his engagement with Bingle, when plumbers were called to the couple's Bondi apartment because "someone had placed something, worth a lot of money, down the toilet".
It wasn't the $200,000 engagement ring, as widely reported, because Clarke had given it to someone else to look after during the messy break-up, but it further added to the circus of misconception that has shadowed him.
Of course, sometimes the issues have been real. Revelations that teammate Simon Katich throttled Clarke in the SCG dressing room because the vice-captain wanted to see Bingle after a Test match win in early 2009 enhanced the public witch-hunt.
Cut against this backdrop, Clarke has been skewered as a metrosexual lacking focus. It culminated when the crowd at the Gabba shamefully booed him two years ago when he came out for the coin toss.
Those within the team have, for years, talked about Clarke's work ethic at training. He prefers proper net sessions to throwdowns. When Tim Nielsen was coach, he often challenged him on the drills they would do and if it was enough.
Clarke is known to do dawn sessions in the sandhills of Cronulla near his home in Sydney's south, and call restaurants in advance to ensure they have healthy meals on the menu.
His close mate Bell is regularly mystified by the criticism.
He's seen Clarke get off the accountant's boat at the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Newport and wade through hundreds of kids and people attending weddings and not miss an autograph or photo.
In early January, on his way to his triple century against India, he spotted Bell's mother in the stands as he raced out to bat after the tea break, stopped, went back and planted one on her cheek.
"Anyone who has that misconception that he's selfish could not be more wrong," Bell said. "He says he doesn't read the papers. Of course he does.
"There's a sensitive side as well. He's the last one to whinge about it. He always says to me, 'Mate, it goes with the territory. I get that it comes with it.' He's not resentful. He has no hate in him. I'm sure he wants a break now and then. Whenever there is heat on him, we have the same discussion – just go and get runs."
Doubts from the public, though, remain despite a calmer life with wife Kyly and his side's recent success. A talkback caller to Sky Sports Radio on Thursday branded him a "poser" who lacked focus. "And he talks out of the side of his mouth," the caller reckoned.
As Clarke said the day he replaced Ponting as captain: "Maybe my address has changed [from Sydney's west] and I have a few more tattoos than I did when I was a kid, but I think the person inside is the same. I think the public have seen a lot of who I am. I certainly believe they will get to see a lot more now I've been given this opportunity."
Misconceptions from the public are one thing; animosity from teammates is another matter altogether.
Close observers of the Australian side believe the hostility shown by others in the dressing room towards Clarke in the past comes back to a split between Warne and Waugh, dating as far back as 1999.
A man and cricketer unto himself, Warne gelled quickly with the young Clarke. Both single during the months away on tour, it was Clarke who Warne confided in when his marriage fell apart before the 2005 Ashes series in England.
Senior players in the side – the likes of Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ponting – are said to have struggled with Clarke's immediate cockiness for someone so young. They had come through a system of Border, Mark Taylor and Waugh, where the youngster in the side knew his place.
Warne's defence of Clarke now is there for all to see. He cattily blasted Ponting for thinly-veiled claims in Punter's recently released autobiography about the influence Clarke's messy relationship with Bingle had on the side.
Yet the falling out that many believe unfairly cost Clarke much kudos in the dressing room was the one with Andrew Symonds.
The volatile all-rounder Symonds had been involved in an alcohol-fuelled incident in England – that wasn't made public, according to team sources – but officials didn't send him home.
Clarke had backed his good mate on that occasion – "If he goes, I go," he is said to have declared – but when Symonds again erred during a training camp in Darwin, when Clarke was stand-in captain, Clarke stood his ground, and the relationship ended forever.
In more recent times, Clarke's relationship with Shane Watson has seemingly improved if their on-field demeanour is any indication. Others report they are "co-existing".
Either way, the side appears united again, or at the very least, functioning – which is an eternity away from the "homework" scandal in India or even the fourth Ashes Test in Durham earlier this year when Clarke was said to be at his lowest ebb and wondering if he'd ever juggle the urn in his hands again.
Now it's right there.
How much longer will he continue to play? The strongest of whispers around the last Ashes series was that he would abandon Test cricket at the end of this summer, such is the pain caused by his degenerative back injury.
Bell is not so sure.
"I wouldn't be surprised he plays 140 Tests by the time it's all done," he said. "He's not into breaking records, it's not his thing. He's about his team winning. I think he'll play for as long as he can contribute. He'll know when he can't do that any longer, he'll stop playing. He's good with self-assessment."
Which is fair enough. Because when it comes to Clarke, everyone seems to have an opinion.