Waugh backs Clarke as future skipper

Vice-captain Clarke, 29, caused a storm when he quit Australia's tour of New Zealand on Sunday to rush home and sort out his troubled relationship with 22-year-old fiancee, swimsuit model Lara Bingle.

Newspapers have reported that Clarke wanted to be with Bingle, who has threatened to sue an Australian Rules footballer after a photo of her in the shower appeared in a gossip magazine.

Bingle told the same magazine, on Woman's Day, this week that she felt "violated" by the photo, taken during a brief affair in 2006.

Debate has raged over Clarke's suitability to eventually replace Ricky Ponting as Australia's next Test and one-day captain.

But Waugh, who won 41 of his 57 Test matches as captain up until 2004 in a golden era in Australian cricket, said Clarke's leadership ambitions should be judged by his performances and not off-field dramas.

"I hope it doesn't affect his captaincy, I don't think it would," Waugh told The Australian. "Michael has captained the team in the past and I don't think this would stop that in the future."

Waugh said other Test players had experienced similar situations in the past without leaving the team. "It's a difficult one, it's a personal issue. If it was for the benefit of the team and Michael then these things have to be negotiated," he said.

Today's press carried speculation that Australia's sporting glamour couple had broken off their engagement and split up. There were reports of the appearance of a removals truck outside their Sydney apartment on Wednesday, and Bingle was photographed without her engagement ring.

Clarke has been named in a 14-man squad for the two-Test series against the Kiwis later this month. But Cricket Australia's general manager of cricket Michael Brown conceded he does not know when Clarke will return to New Zealand.

"I've talked to him over the last few days and we have a Test tour looming," he said. "I would hope he's part of that group. "But unless he's ready to go, there's no point going.
"We'll talk again over the next couple of days and our intention hopefully is to get him back in the side for the Test match."

Clarke has played 58 Tests and 173 one-day internationals since his ODI debut in 2003 and has taken over from Ponting the captaincy of Australia's Twenty20 team.

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