Australia’s Test captain-in-waiting, Michael Clarke, has defended his decision to return from the New Zealand tour to end his engagement to Lara Bingle.Clarke said he was unable to focus on playing at the time, and needed to end the personal drama. In the face of criticism that his leaving jeopardised his suitability for the captaincy, he returned to the tour and scored a match-winning century.”I [decided] to go home because I thought that was in the best interests of myself and the team,” he said. ”I wasn’t in a position to perform the way I need to perform at the highest level, so with the support of family, friends and my teammates I made that decision.”And with the help of the same people I [decided to] come back, and I was in a better position to … get some runs.”Ricky [Ponting] and all the players gave me the freedom to make my choice and I feel, at the time, I made the right choice. I believe I made the right choice to go home, and the right choice to come back when I did. I don’t want to go too much into my personal life, but people go through these things. I’m very lucky I had the freedom to go home and then come back.”That was part of the reward in scoring runs – it was great for me personally but it was also a bit of a thank you to my teammates.”While former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath recently stage-managed the announcement of his new relationship in a bid to limit the invasion of his privacy by the media, Clarke said he was in a different situation. ”Everybody makes their own decisions. For me, it’s about accepting that it’s not just about what I do on the field but off the field as well.”I’ll try throughout the rest of my life to keep as much of my personal life as personal as possible, with the understanding – I don’t know why – but people want to hear about it.”It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ve got family and friends that you can trust 100 per cent through good times, through tough times. It’s something I’ve always been proud of, my closeness to my friends, to my family, and to my teammates.”Clarke admitted he still cared what critics thought of him, after fans and former players reacted to his decision to abandon the tour because of personal problems. ”I read it; people are entitled to their opinion,” he said. ”I can’t change their opinions. I felt at the time that I made the right decision for me personally, but also for the team.”People are going to say what they like and have their opinion and I respect that opinion. That’s the way it is. I still care that other people think. But what I’ve learnt is the acceptance that people get paid for a comment, to sell papers, to sell magazines. So accept and make sure you do what you need to do to perform in your next game.”There is little scope for Clarke to lead a sheltered existence and he realises the scrutiny on his next relationship will be as severe, if not more so, than on his former engagement to Bingle.”I hope not, but I think it will be, and I’ll continue to try to keep as much of my personal life personal, but I accept that if somebody gets a photo of me they’re going to write about me, I have to accept that,” Clarke said.”I would have liked [the break-up] to be more personal. I think it’s a part of what professional sportsmen do these days – it’s not just about what you do on the field, it’s off the field as well. We’re seeing that more and more every day. People are interested in what you’re doing off the field, a lot of the stuff you can’t control.”It’s about understanding and respecting that the media have a job to do; they’re trying to sell newspapers, magazines [and] channels are fighting for who is watching what.”No doubt there are times when I’d love my personal life to stay very personal, but there are parts you can’t control.”Clarke also said that when Andrew Symonds was sacked last year and sent home from the World Twenty20 tournament in England, he learnt a lesson about the importance of the team over the individual.”It gave me experience about leadership and that you make decisions that are in the best interests of the team; Ricky has taught me that,” Clarke said.”It is never personal – being in a leadership role, it’s about trying to do the best thing for the team and sometimes you’ve got to make a hard call. But if it’s in the best interest of the team, you make that call.”That is one thing Punter [Ponting] has always done, and has always shown in any team I’ve played with – the team comes first.”