SHANE WARNE returned from India as Test cricket's greatest wicket-taker-after passing Muthiah Muralitharan's mark of 532 wickets last month.

But according to the Hampshire captain, watching Michael Clarke's remarkable emergence was even more rewarding.

For most of last summer, the 23-year-old struggled to come to terms with his first season of county cricket under Warne until he reeled off three consecutive championship 100s in July.

In the process Clarke became the first Hampshire batsman since Gordon Greenidge in the mid-1980s to achieve the feat.

In India, Clarke was one of Australia's big selection gambles, but he was the second leading runscorer behind Damien Martyn with 376 at 75, and became only the fourth Australian batsman to make a 150 on his Test debut.

Warne believes that Clarke's four months at the Rose Bowl helped to make him the future of Australian cricket and Ricky Ponting's natural successor as captain.

"All credit to Clarke," Warne said. "He is a quality young man and last summer I saw at first-hand his class and maturity.

"I'm sure the experience of county cricket helped him a lot. He has a very level head and a great respect for the game and, to me, he is Punter's (Ponting's) successor.

"Presenting him with his baggy green cap was my personal highlight of the India tour - he will be the new superstar of Australian sport.

"The Pup, as he is known to us, has it all at his feet, he is prepared to do the hard yards, and sacrifice things to succeed."

Clarke and Darren Lehmann are competing for one batting spot against the 'Black Caps' at the Gabba. Despite the 34-year-old offering to stand down for Clarke, the Australian selectors are determined to retain his services for as long as possible.

Clarke has already resigned himself to missing out.