Clarke praises Smith's use of Lyon

Former skipper says current captain has improved as a leader and flourished with the bat

Former Australia captain Michael Clarke has praised successor Steve Smith for his improved use of spinner Nathan Lyon on the recent Test tour of India.

Smith's tactics regarding Lyon were questioned by Clarke as well as his former deputy Brad Haddin and spin king Shane Warne following the first Test against South Africa in Perth last November, with the trio of retired players saying the off-spinner had been under-bowled as the tourists won by 177 runs.

Quick Single: Smith defends use of Lyon in Perth

Lyon's spot in the side was under intense scrutiny leading into the third Test of that series having taken just two wickets in the first two Tests, but a calf injury to back-up spinner Steve O'Keefe helped off-spinner hold his spot and he finished the home season with 15 wickets in the remaining four Tests.

He followed that with 19 wickets in the Border-Gavaskar series, including a record-breaking 8-50 in Bengaluru, and Clarke says the 29-year-old got perfect support from his skipper against the world's No.1 Test side.

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"It's going to be a good challenge this summer to see how (Smith) utilises Nathan Lyon because that's where I think his game has improved," Clarke told Wide World of Sports.

"On the trip to India he used his spin department much better, so this summer hopefully again he'll continue to grow there."

Almost two years since Clarke retired from the game and handed the captaincy to Smith, the 36-year-old says his former teammate is starting to settle on his own style of leadership.

Having led his side through a dark period of five consecutive Test defeats late last year to the verge of what would have been a rare series win in India, Clarke says Smith's ability to be his own man has been critical to his development as a captain.

"I think his leadership has certainly improved," Clarke said. "I think he's still learning what his style and technique is, but that takes everyone a bit of time.

"The one thing about leadership is there's no perfect way to lead. There's no right or wrong way. Smithy has his own style.

"I loved the way he's been confident with his own batting. A lot of people have looked at his technique, but he's said 'this is the way I play' and he's been so successful.

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"I'd like him to do that with his captaincy as well and say 'this is my style, I don't have to captain like Allan Border or Mark Taylor or Ricky Ponting, this is the way I do it and I'm going to back myself."

Taking over the captaincy has also seen Smith thrive as a batsman and he currently holds a sizeable 55-point lead at the top of the ICC's Test batting rankings.

Smith scored a century in each of his first three Tests as captain, when he stood in for the injured Clarke against India in the summer of 2014-15, and he's added three more centuries against the Indians as well as two against New Zealand, two against Pakistan and one against each of Sri Lanka and the West Indies since taking over as full-time skipper.

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The right-hander's average of 73.27 from 24 Tests as captain is second only to Sir Donald Bradman (101.51 from 24 Tests) among all Test skippers and his century in the first Test against India in Pune saw him bring up 10 tons in just 37 innings as captain, the third-fastest to that milestone behind Bradman (26 innings) and Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardena (36).

"I think as a leader taking over the team, if you can lead from the front with the bat that's the easiest way to earn respect and he's done that," Clarke said.