"It's what I've missed," Michael Clarke said as he drove from Pratten Park after completing his first training session with the Western Suburbs Cricket Club, following his decision to relinquish the captaincy of Australia five months ago.
Returning to the ground where he first played 16 years ago was a reminder sport does not have to follow the twin American ideals of branding and bigness and their by-products - conflicting ambitions of professional players leading to divided dressing rooms.
"It was brilliant," said Clarke, ahead of a two-day match against Randwick Petersham beginning Saturday, his 98th first-grade game for the Magpies. He agreed it was reminiscent of a time cricketers and footballers arrived at the first training session of a new season, when the air was ripe not only with the rank smell of a musty dressing room but also with the sweet smell of possibility.
"To walk onto Pratten Park and see all the guys warming up in black and white clothes. It felt the same as it did 16 years ago," he said.
"The warm-up. No change there. The grandstand has been done up a bit. The ground was in great condition.
"It was a nice feeling. I had a smile on my face when I saw the blokes.
"I saw Dave Gilbert [the former Australian fast bowler, now president of the club], old Stevie [McClue], who was the scorer there when I was in fifth grade ... Liam Gibson.
"Obviously I played with them last year [a game at Gordon when he was testing his hamstring, his partnership with Gibson producing 100 runs]."
But this was a homecoming to Pratten Park, a place he said: "Where I haven't played for a long time."
Just as pre-season training for sportspeople in decades past always seemed to come at precisely the right time, so did the Pratten Park session, with its old-fashioned ground and rituals, allow Clarke to find his groove.
There he was, a 34-year-old who debuted for Australia in 2004, chasing the cricket ball and sending himself down the rabbit hole of possibilities.
Can he, after all the tumult and tension of a 115-Test career where he captained Australia in 47 of them, view cricket anew, as Wordsworth wrote, "the glory and freshness of a dream"?
To his Western Suburbs mates, Clarke's return to Ashfield had a beautiful unpretentiousness, akin to a world-class golfer hitting a bucket of balls at a public golf course or Kobe Bryant joining a lunch-time basketball game.
But the cynics ask: is he using the Magpies to launch a career in the Indian Premier League, Big Bash League or county cricket?
Asked the question, he said: "It's all about Western Suburbs now. This is the ground with so many great memories.
"This is where I grew from a young boy to a man.
"This is where I learnt about being part of a team, getting a job, learning to bat, to be a captain. These are the people I was lucky to be around.
"They have been extremely loyal to me and I hope I can be loyal to them. I've got the whole of winter to think about what I'm going to do."
Should he play the precise number of games left in the season, he will reach 100 top grade games for the Magpies, a club he has supported in rugby league as well.
"I'd love to get to 100 games. This year or next year. The guys who watched me when I started there at 13, are still there.
"I loved going back. It's what I've missed."
Clarke concedes he has contemplated the notion of home. Obviously, right now, it is a physical place with his wife Kyly and child, Kelsey. But, for most of his career, home has been a more provisional notion - the unit, apartment or hotel room in which he slept at night, as if the life of an international cricketer was an exhausting tour of duty, and home, no matter how sumptuous, equalled a mere rest stop on the highway of career development.
But as retirement beckons, home can come to mean an actual place that is fragrant with memory and joy, a place we visit in our reveries.
It is ours, even if it is a crumbling club with beer-soaked carpet, or an ancient, toy-like grandstand.
It is the place to which the compass always points, where we always seek to return, no matter how far off course we drift.
Pratten Park holds such a place in Clarke's heart. It is his harbour after a career where being a celebrity and a cricketer collided in such a confused state his confidant was not a teammate but Shane Warne, a man who retired from international cricket eight years before.
"Western Suburbs Cricket Club is my family," Clarke said. "It's where I feel comfortable."
Wests will also honour Clarke at a dinner at the Ashfield Leagues Club on March 24 celebrating the cricket club's 120-year existence.
Separating fact from fiction is always difficult with superstar sportspeople.
Their deeds on the field render them heroic; their carefully constructed corporate images are designed to make them iconic.
Every step they take off the field is an encounter between a hero and a fan or journalist, with potential for exploitation on either side.
So will Pratten Park on Saturday see the real Michael?
"People don't get paid to be part of the environment here," he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if mum turned up and worked the canteen. I can't wait to see the old blokes. I hope they stay around so I can have a beer with them.
"It's not about money. It's about Wests."