In 2013 Clarke was named captain of the Sydney Thunder in Australia's Twenty20Big Bash League. Due to international commitments and injury, Clarke did not play any games for the Thunder and they went on to lose all eight games and finish bottom of the ladder.
Clarke was chosen to make his Test debut against India at Bangalore, October 2004, despite having a first-class average below 40. He succeeded on debut, scoring 151 and consequently helping Australia to victory, invoking comparisons to past Australian batsmen such as Doug Walters and Mark Waugh. The innings, felt Peter Roebuck, was especially notable for its aggression and freedom. "Not that the assault was reckless," he added. "Indeed the control was impressive. Clarke calculated the risks and took his brains with him down the track. Of course he need [sic] a bit of luck, was plumb in front in the nineties, but few begrudged him his hundred. And everyone except his weary foes celebrated with him and his tearful family when he reached three figures. After all, he had advanced both the match and the game."
Clarke went on to play a major part leading both the batting & bowling averages for the series in Australia's 2–1 series victory, their first in India in over thirty years, contributing figures of 6 for 9 off 6.2 overs in the Fourth Test, which Australia lost. On his return to Australia he made another debut century, his first home Test in Brisbane against New Zealand, becoming one of the few Test cricketers to have achieved the feat of Test centuries on both their home and away debuts. In recognition of his performance in the 2004 calendar year, he was awarded the Allan Border Medal in 2005.
Clarke's poor form during the 2005 Ashes series and his failure to score a Test century for over a year saw him dropped from the Test team in late 2005. Clarke had previously remarked that one of his career aims was to never be dropped from the Test team. In early 2006, after making his first first-class double century and scoring heavily in ODIs, Clarke was recalled for the tour of South Africa. He was then picked over Andrew Symonds for the April 2006 Tests against Bangladesh. Two consecutive centuries in the second and third Ashes Tests while Shane Watson was injured helped Australia to regain the Ashes and cemented Clarke's position in the Test team.
Clarke then helped Australia retain the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the West Indies where they did not lose a game. After Damien Martyn's retirement he was elevated to number five in the batting line up. He had a superb tournament making four 50s including a 92 and a 93* against the Netherlands and South Africa. He also made an unbeaten 60 against South Africa in the semi final to guide Australia into the final at Barbados, against Sri Lanka.
Clarke faced only four balls for three runs in the ICC World Twenty20, when Australia were knocked out by India in the semi final. Two weeks later he made 130 against India in the first of a seven-match ODI series. He did not maintain that form in the remaining 6 matches mustering up just one fifty. He opened the batting in the final two games after a hip injury ruled out Matthew Hayden and he made two golden ducks. In the tour-ending Twenty20 match Clarke dropped back down the order with the return of Hayden, and scored 25 not out in a heavy defeat.
On 9 November 2007, Clarke notched up his fifth Test century against Sri Lanka in a two Test series. Clarke shared a 245 run partnership with Mike Hussey at the Gabba in Brisbane, Hussey departed on 133 but Clarke went on and had a partnership with Symonds who made 53*, the pair were unbeaten when Ricky Ponting declared the innings, Clarke top scoring with 145 not out. On 5 December 2007, Cricket Australia named Clarke as captain of Australia for their one-off Twenty20 game against New Zealand in Perth, after deciding to rest Ponting and Hayden.
Michael Clarke on his way to 99* against England at the Oval in 2010
On 6 January 2008, Clarke dismissed Harbhajan Singh, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma in the second last over of the day, with just eight minutes remaining, to claim the final three wickets and win the Test match for Australia (at one stage he was on a hat trick, dismissing Harbhajan Singh and RP Singh on consecutive deliveries). His innings figures were 3 for 5 in 1.5 overs. Australian captain Ricky Ponting had declared that morning, setting India a total of 333 to chase and allowing Australia arguably too little time to bowl out the visitors. Clarke's wickets ensured that Australia retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2008 and kept their world record equalling 16 match win streak alive.
After the retirement of Adam Gilchrist, in April 2008 Clarke was named vice-captain of the Australian side. Clarke missed the start of Australia's 2008 tour of the West Indies following the death of Bingle's father, meaning Hussey took over as vice-captain for the start of the tour. Soon after Clarke joined up with the squad, he scored a century in the second Test in Antigua, going on to captain the side in the final two One Day Internationals, both of which were won, in the absence through injury of Ponting.
He was named man of the series in the two-Test series against New Zealand in Australia with scores of 110, 98 and 10, as well as being the top run-scorer in the three-Test series against South Africa in Australia. Clarke won the 2009 Allan Border Medal in a tie with Ricky Ponting both scoring 41 points, and was named Test Cricketer of the Year.
Clarke has been unpopular with some members of the public. Some of the criticism revolves around his batting position at number five in Australia's Test line-up, with detractors accusing him of using much more inexperienced batsmen to protect him by having them bat higher up the order.
Clarke has now (2013) won the Allan Border Medal, considered to be the most prestigious individual prize in Australian cricket, four times, in 2005, 2009 (jointly with Ricky Ponting), 2012 and 2013. Only Ponting has won it as many times.
Clarke was named as captain of Australia's Twenty20 side in October 2009, taking over from the retired Ricky Ponting. In January 2011, Clarke was named as stand-in captain for the fifth Test of the 2010-11 Ashes Series at the SCG, replacing the injured Ricky Ponting. He announced his retirement from Twenty20 International cricket on 7 January 2011, to concentrate on the longer forms of the game. When Ponting stood down from the captaincy of the Australian Test and ODI sides after the 2011 World Cup, Clarke was appointed as his permanent replacement in both roles.
In January 2012, in the second Test of Australia's home series against India and after a string of Test centuries since becoming captain, Clarke became the first Australian batsman since Matthew Hayden in 2003 to score a triple hundred. He joined with Ricky Ponting (134) in a partnership of 288, then added 334 with Michael Hussey (150*) before declaring on 329*. This match against India was the 100th test to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and Clarke's score was both the highest ever made in an Australia-India test (surpassing V. V. S. Laxman's 281 from the 2000/01 season) and the highest ever achieved at the ground. The ground high score record had been held for more than a century by Englishman Reg "Tip" Foster's 287 scored in the 1903/04 season. Clarke led Australia to a 4–0 win and was named the player of the series, having scored 626 runs at an average of 125.20. He joined his triple century in Sydney with a double-century (210) in the first innings of the fourth Test in Adelaide. His 386-run partnership with Ponting (who scored 221) was the fourth-highest in Australian Test history. Following the Frank Worrell Trophy 2012, Ian Chappell said Clarke "is quickly establishing a well-deserved reputation for brave and aggressive captaincy. His entertaining approach is based on one premise: trying to win the match from the opening delivery. This should be the aim of all international captains, but sadly it isn't."
Three weeks before 2013 Ashes Series, Michael Clarke requested to stand down from his role as a selector, which also coincided with the sacking of coach Mickey Arthur and the naming of Darren Lehmann as his successor. After the first Ashes Test against England at Gabba Clarke was fined by ICC for using abusive language towards James Anderson. He regained the coveted Ashes on 17 December 2013 at Perth after four years, and subsequently led Australia to a 5-0 whitewash of England in the 2013–14 Ashes series.
During the Australian Cricket tour of New Zealand in March 2010, Clarke left the tour to return to Sydney for "personal reasons". In a late night press conference on 12 March 2010, Clarke's management confirmed he and then-fiancée, model Lara Bingle, had decided to terminate their engagement. Speaking to GQ Australia in November 2010, Clarke said of his decision to leave the tour of New Zealand, "My decision that I made there, was what I thought was right. I respect playing for my country that much that I thought, if I’m going to let anybody down, I shouldn’t be here — there’s somebody else who could be doing a better job than me. Going home was the right decision at the time for me. I don’t regret that decision."
Clarke's debut Test score of 151 was made against India in Bangalore, 2004–05; he then made 141 against New Zealand in November 2004 on his debut on home-soil at the Gabba (Brisbane, Australia), making him the only Australian to score a century on both home and away debuts.
His best Test bowling figures of 6 for 9 (6.2) came against India, Mumbai, 2004–05.
His first Ashes century came in December 2006, when he hit 124 at the Adelaide Oval to help Australia to victory.
He dismissed India's last three batsman in five balls on the fifth day of the 2nd Test against India on 6 January 2008.
He won Australian Man of the Series in the 2009 Ashes Series. He was nominated by England team director Andy Flower for his "excellent batting".
He was named full-time one-day and Test captain of Australia on 29 March 2011.
Clarke's highest Test batting score of 329* was made on 5 January 2012 against India. This is the highest Test match batting score at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and the 4th best Test match batting score of all time by an Australian.
Clarke followed up his 329* in Sydney with 210 in Adelaide, thereby joining Don Bradman and Wally Hammond as the only players to have made a triple century and a double century in the same series.
Clarke's score of 259* made at the Gabba on 9 November 2012 against South Africa is the highest Test score at the ground.
Clarke is the only Test batsman ever to reach four double centuries in a single calendar year, with a double century (230) at the Adelaide Oval on 22 November 2012.
An innings-by-innings breakdown of Clarke's Test match batting career as at 5 January 2012, showing runs scored (bars – not out innings in orange, others in blue) and the career to-date batting average (red line). An alternative image showing a 10 innings moving average is also available.
Clarke is the highest run-maker in Test matches at the SCG on 329*, succeeding Reginald Foster, who previously held the record, with a score of 287.
After his double century at the Adelaide Oval in November 2012, Clarke became the only player in Test Cricket history to score 4 double centuries in a single calendar year. This feat also includes an unbeaten triple century.
His best ODI bowling figures of 5 for 35 came against Sri Lanka, at Dambulla, 2003–04
He was the captain of Australia for the 2009 One Dayers as well as Twenty20 matches vs England
He was named full-time one-day and test captain of Australia on 29 March 2011.
A match-by-match breakdown of Clarke's ODI batting career as at 23 January 2012, showing runs scored (bars – not out innings in orange, others in blue) and the career to-date batting average (red line). An alternative image showing a 10 match moving average is also available.