Clarke cleared for Ashes opener

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Michael Clarke

Michael Clarke has proved his fitness during training and will, captain Ricky Ponting confirmed, line up at the Gabba tomorrow

Michael Clarke will play for Australia in the opening Ashes Test in Brisbane after recovering from a back injury.

The vice-captain, who had injections last week to speed up his return to fitness after aggravating the longstanding problem in a Sheffield Shield match last week, has proved his readiness during training.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting confirmed: “Michael Clarke has got through his work particularly well the last couple of days and had a long, solid bat in the nets again today.

“Doug Bollinger and Usman Khawaja are the two who are not playing (from the squad of 13).”

Bollinger’s absence means Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle will share seam-bowling responsibilities at the Gabba, with help from Shane Watson, while left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty, as expected, will make his Test debut.

Ponting reports Clarke fit enough not only to get through the first Test but to stay in rude health through the whole series.

Asked if his deputy might be around 80% fit, Ponting said: “He’s better than that. He’s done all his fielding today. I wouldn’t have thought there would be a risk involved.

“It’s a big game for us at the start of the series, and you don’t want to go with a cloud hanging over anybody.

“That was why he was asked to do as much batting as he did yesterday, and again today. We couldn’t afford to leave any stone unturned as far as preparation is concerned.

“He has had injections. He had injections a little while ago, I think, almost immediately after the Shield game when he pulled up sore.”

Doug Bollinger

Doug Bollinger's lack of match practice and ongoing concerns over a side injury have seen him omitted from the Australia XI

Clarke has an apparently chronic frailty in his back, but has yet to miss a Test because of it.

“His history is that he’s had these type of back complaints for most of his career,” added Ponting. “He gets through games, he pulls up a bit sore, does all his recovery, and gets up again and plays.

“I’m not sure what the long-term prognosis for this one is. All I know is he’s ready to go for this game.”

The opposite seems to be true of the unfortunate Bollinger, still feeling his way back into competitive action after a side strain.

“Lack of bowling over the last few weeks has been as much to do with it as anything,” Ponting said of the left-arm pace bowler’s exclusion.

“We feel that Hilfenhaus and Siddle are very well advanced in their preparations for this series, and Johnson has a lot of cricket under his belt.

“This line-up had good success in South Africa and at times in England last series. We think this attack is good enough to take 20 wickets at the Gabba.”

Ponting is equally confident about Doherty’s prospects, despite the 28-year-old’s first-class bowling average of 48.26.

“He’s been particularly good; he’s bowled a lot the last few days,” said Ponting. “He’s very excited and looking forward to the challenge over next five days. He’s a pretty level-headed bloke and knows his strengths and weaknesses.

“He’ll stick to those through the five days, and I’m sure he’ll do well. It’s exciting for all of us, and exciting for me to have a cap presentation. That’s a great part of my job.”

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