Michael Clarke is slowly but surely changing people's opinion of him. Despite leading the Aussies to World Cup and Ashes success, the 35-year old has struggled to win over the Australian public and remains a polarising figure.<br/><br/>
You can point to his celebrity lifestyle, dating Lara Bingle and modeling in underwear adverts early in his career, as well as that dressing room incident with Simon Katich, but Clarke's response to the tragic death of close friend, Phillip Hughes marked a turning point.<br/><br/>
The former Australian Test captain made his return to first class cricket over the weekend, scoring 99 not out for the Western Suburbs at Allan Border oval in their six wicket win against Mosman, and his comeback is great for grassroots cricket.<br/><br/>
The veteran batsman only retired from the baggy green last year, having been plagued by back and hamstring injuries over his career. You can imagine how surreal it would feel to be playing grade cricket and having to face down the two-time Allan Border Medal winner.
Clarke certainly copped it from Mosman supporters who were heard yelling "get ready for a broken fucking arm", referring to his famous sledge of English fast bowler, James Anderson in the 2013-14 Ashes series, but he's surely heard worse.<br/><br/>
The 35-year old had a touch of luck and closely avoided a stumping after the Mosman keeper fumbled a take in the first ball after drinks, before going on to rack up a big score.<br/><br/>
While rumours this is the first step of his plans to play overseas in a lucrative Twenty20 league and rake in the big bucks won't go away, Pup is enjoying his cricket again and you can hardly judge him for having a go.<br/><br/>
Clarke's return is also about giving back to the cricket community. If you look around local competitions across the country, how many former national team players do you see? Hardly any, so his involvement is something we should applaud.
The former Australian captain has always been willing to help young up-and-comers with their game. Having mentored Nepalese leg spinner, Sandeep Lamichhane, the 16-year old's strong performance on his first grade debut for Wests on Saturday would have filled him with pride.<br/><br/>
Clarke will commentate for Channel 9 this summer and it will be fascinating to get some fresh insights from the box, rather than hear James Brayshaw and Mark Taylor crack jokes and endlessly discuss how thick the bats are these days.<br/><br/>
Pup clearly has plenty left to offer the game so let's start giving him the benefit of the doubt.<br/><br/><br/>
Written by <b>Tim Alexander</b>