Captain Clarke has more than one contest to win
Sydney, New South Wales
It should be the pinnacle of Michael Clarke's career - captaining his country for the first time, in his home town, against the old enemy in an Ashes Test.
Except it doesn't quite feel like the celebration or the coronation that it should.
The circumstances are unfortunate to say the least: a stand-in job for the injured Ricky Ponting, Australia 2-1 down and coming off their second innings defeat in three Tests, with the Ashes already retained by England, a young side of not-yets and will-they-evers taking dreadful stick from public and press alike, and his own form apparently in pieces.
Neither will the headlines in Clarke's local newspaper on Friday morning lift his mood. Of the 4,500 people surveyed by Sydney's Daily Telegraph, only 15% backed him as long-term skipper. Simon Katich polled more votes, and he is (a) 35, and (b) unlikely to ever play Test cricket again.
Katich, captain of the New South Wales state side, is a popular man in these parts. But that doesn't quite explain why Clarke - at his best a fabulous batsman, full of dreamy drives and fancy footwork - appears to draw such a lukewarm response from cricket lovers across the country.
"I've copped criticism throughout my whole career - it's no different now," he said here on Thursday, and he's absolutely right.
From the other side of the world, Clarke's easy progression through the ranks (he made his first-class debut as a 19-year-old, captained Australia's under-19 team a decade ago and scored splendid centuries in his debut Tests both home and away) looked like the untroubled ascent of a shiny new sporting hero. He was awarded the Allan Border medal - given to the outstanding Aussie cricketer of the year - ahead of favourites Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist, and seemed set to inherit Steve Waugh's mantle as the state and country's most feted batsman.
Yet even then there were signs that the Australian public was not quite willing to clutch this young Pup to its breast.
Clarke is a recipient of the Allan Border Medal and a former Wisden Cricketer of the Year
Already Clarke had gained a reputation as a player who enjoyed making commercial cash, signing lucrative endorsements with an underwear manufacturer, a bat maker and a chocolate drink firm.
There is nothing wrong with buying a sports car, particularly when you are a working-class kid who grew up with posters of them on the bedroom walls of your childhood home in the west Sydney suburb of Liverpool, but if the runs then dry up, it can become an easy symbol for the doubters to take aim at.
And Clarke's runs did dry up. After a brilliant series in India was matched by one back home against New Zealand, he struggled badly against the reverse-swing of England's bowlers during the 2005 Ashes and found himself dropped from the Test side.
Showing considerable character and unarguable cricketing class, he scored a heap of runs in the Sheffield Shield, swapped his Ferrari for a Range Rover and won his place back in time to take revenge against England by smashing consecutive centuries in the 2006-7 Ashes series down under.
The on-pitch successes continued. Cutting out the wristy gambles and flamboyant flicks, he made his second coming count, just as Katich was doing the same and as Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden had before them. Centuries at Lord's and Edgbaston saw him named Australia's Man of the Series by England coach Andy Flower in 2009 Ashes; he was voted one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year a few months later.
But the problems off it have never quite gone away.
"For some reason there are question marks over Michael Clarke," Steve Waugh said this week, and everyone in Australia understood what he meant.
Some put it down to Clarke's private life, which over the last six years has been anything but. With ex-fiancee Lara Bingle he was a regular in the gossip mags and tittle-tattle weeklies, popping up at openings and ad campaigns like a prototype Antipodean Posh and Becks.
Bingle, a model from down the coast in Yowie Bay, came to prominence in a commercial for Tourism Australia asking "Where are you?" The answer, when she was on Clarke's arm, was everywhere.
If that tabloid familiarity sat uneasily with those used to the sober statesmanship of Waugh, the end of their relationship was messier still. Clarke flew home in the middle of Australia's tour of New Zealand citing "personal reasons" after Bingle announced she was suing her former partner and Aussie Rules larrikin Brendan Fevola for releasing compromising photographs from their time together.
Bingle agreed to sell her story to the same magazine that had printed the pictures of her in the first place. A few days later, Clarke's management company called a late-night news conference to announce that the engagement was off.
Those sorts of things did not happen to Waugh, Mark Taylor or Allan Border, let alone the near-sacred figures who preceded them as Australia's captain - Bobby Simpson, Richie Benaud and Sir Don Bradman.
Neither did the tattoos. Apart from an unfortunate 'LB' tribute to Bingle above a crouching angel on his right bicep, Clarke also has ink featuring his Test cap number, the words 'carpe diem' (seize the day in Latin) and the names of his parents Les John and Deborah written in Hindi.
Tattoos are no sort of reason to take against someone. If they were, this particular BBC correspondent would be another one in some trouble. Most of us have also experienced more than the odd sticky patch in our relationships. No man deserves unsympathetic censure for making mistakes he later regrets.
But Clarke was also having problems within the sanctuary of the dressing-room. Rumours of his supposed unpopularity within the team were already circulating in the Australian media when he was involved in an angry confrontation in February 2009 with the more traditional, church-going Katich.
At the end of every Test match win, the Australian team sing their victory anthem 'Under the Southern Cross I Stand'. After the West Indies had been beaten at the SCG in February last year, Clarke reportedly wanted it sung early so he could spend time with his family and Bingle. Katich disagreed and a fierce argument ensued.
"For the stuff in the change-room you'd have to ask the other guys, but I certainly feel the guys have shown me a lot of respect when I've had the opportunity to captain," Clarke said after skippering the one-day defeat to Sri Lanka earlier this season
"People will make their judgment, but I think as a team we need to continue to work together. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it's important to be true to yourself, and true to who you are."
The cricket authorities in Australia have made a big show of publicly backing Clarke in the build-up to this fifth Test, which the Baggy Greens must win to prevent an England series victory.
"Over next couple of weeks the Australian public will see a different Michael Clarke," insists coach Tim Nielsen.
"He has the chance to relax. He is not man in waiting anymore, he is the man and that is a big weight off his shoulders. I'm comfortable his strength of character will allow him to step into the job and do a good job.
"It's a huge moment for him and we all need to support him. Michael grabs people through his performance and is a natural leader, and that is why he has been appointed when Ricky is not playing. He has confidence to take risks and back himself under pressure."
Clarke deserves his opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. At 29 years old he should ready for the challenge, even if he is currently averaging only 21 and has inherited a side more inexperienced than any Aussie outfit since Taylor's team of late 1995.
Inside his left forearm he has another tattoo, this time a series of Arabic letters. Roughly translated, they read as follows: "The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment".
It is a maxim that Clarke should now know by heart.