Clark set to fight for Test berth
Australia seamer Stuart Clark is set to have the opportunity to stake a claim for a third Test place during this week's tour match against Northamptonshire.
Clark, the leading wicket-taker in the 2006-07 Ashes, has been overlooked for the first two Tests but is in consideration as the tourists plot to hit back at Edgbaston.
With rib-injury victim Brett Lee yet to bowl since the start of the npower series, which England lead 1-0, and Mitchell Johnson struggling for form, Clark has a strong chance.
The Australians face Northamptonshire in a three-day match, starting this Friday, and Clark is set to feature.
Australia hope to include Lee and Johnson alongside him but that will depend on state of side and state of mind respectively as the backroom staff work on fitness and techniques.
“He’s very much in the mix,” said coach Tim Nielsen, of Clarke’s hopes of returning for the third Test at Edgbaston.
“He was considered for this past Test match, we just thought when we saw the wicket that we needed to play the spinner, and the three fast bowlers who had done a good job in Cardiff.
“But everyone in the touring party is in the mix to play each Test.
“That’s why we selected him in the squad, we can’t fit 16 into 11, we need to pick what is the best balance for the conditions that we face.
“We need to pick a bowling group that complement each other well so that Ricky Ponting can start to bowl them in partnerships, use them in pairs, bowl somebody against a specific batsmen if he wants to, and try to get some match-ups right as we go forward.”
Lee, 32, will be assessed today by the tourists’ medical staff and a decision on whether he can play in Northampton will be taken tomorrow.
Australia are wary of rushing him back too soon despite lacking firepower with the new ball.
Shane Watson, another currently on the periphery, will definitely get an outing, having been picked for this tour as spare batting cover.
“He’s been here and ready to play in Tests if we needed a batsman,” explained Nielsen. “Injury put his bowling side of things back a little.
“He’ll play in the tour game and I expect he will bowl also.
“We picked a batsman who we can think can play a role from one to six.”
Young opener Phillip Hughes is undoubtedly the biggest concern due to a lack of runs and has been left frustrated by his opening Ashes exchanges.
“All of our blokes are the same,” Nielsen said. “You don’t walk off and have a bit of a joke. There’s always disappointment.
“He’s been a bit unlucky but he’s just a start away from being on the go.
“We’ve got to remember he’s played five Test matches. And had some exceptional results in those five. He’s up against a good bowling attack and will keep working hard.”