By Chris Devine at Trent Bridge
Michael Clarke believes Australia could not be better prepared for the challenge that awaits in the Investec Ashes.
On the eve of the opening Test at Trent Bridge, touring skipper Clarke was in relaxed mood as he addressed an enormous gathering of journalists in his pre-match press conference.
The 32-year-old acknowledged Australia start the series as underdogs, having lost the previous two Ashes contests and suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat in India earlier this year.
However, rather than be daunted by the prospect of taking on a well-drilled England outfit, Clarke expressed quiet confidence in his team’s chances of success.
Asked how big an achievement it would be for Australia to reclaim the little urn, he responded: “It would be a great achievement. It would be a reward for the hard work we’ve put in.
“All I can ask for, as a playing group, is to make sure you prepare as well as you possibly can and I think every single one of the boys has done that.
“Now it’s about going out on that stage and playing with freedom. Back your own ability.
“We have so much talent inside that room and I’d just love to see the guys play with freedom and play their natural games.
“In regards to what’s happened so far on this tour I couldn’t ask for anything more from the players. Now it’s about going and reaping the rewards.”
There will be no more formal team discussions in the Australian camp prior to tomorrow’s first ball.
“We’ve talked about a lot but I think the talking is done for us as a team now,” Clarke added.
“Our preparation’s finished. Guys will come down today and do what they need to do mentally more than anything else to prepare for tomorrow.
“Our team meetings are done. Our knowledge on the England team is done. Now, as I said to the guys last night, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”
Clarke’s fitness has been a hot topic in recent months, the middle-order batsman having been sidelined by a worsening of the chronic back problem he has managed throughout his career.
Yet he was able to participate in Australia’s final two warm-up games and today declared: “I’m 100% fit.”
Recently appointed coach Darren Lehmann has already confirmed Chris Rogers and Shane Watson will open the batting in Nottingham, but the remainder of Australia’s line-up will not be revealed until Alastair Cook and Clarke have participated in the toss.
“I can tell you I do know the 11 that are playing tomorrow, but at this stage we’re not going to announce the team,” Clarke explained.
“We’re going to wait until the toss tomorrow. The players do know, so they can prepare mentally. But in regards to everybody else, one more sleep is not going to hurt anybody I wouldn’t have thought.”
Regardless of who follows Watson and Rogers, much attention will focus on the contributions of Australia’s batsmen this week.
Since inheriting the Test captaincy from Ricky Ponting, Clarke’s performances have been generally excellent, but the New South Welshman has often lacked support from his colleagues.
“I’m going to make sure I’m focussed on my job, making sure I’m scoring runs and leading by example, and I’m really confident in the other guys,” added Clarke.
“It’s about time I scored some more runs for Australia. I haven’t played for a while. The other guys will be fine; they’re looking forward to this challenge as I am.”