Clarke ready for England battle
Australia have arrived in England without Ricky Ponting for the first time in a generation - but they are no less determined to beat the hosts “in their own backyard”.
Michael Clarke, successor to the indomitable Ponting as Australia captain in Tests and one-day internationals, made that statement of intent as the tourists began their preparation for a five-match NatWest Series in the shorter format.
Clarke has already begun to put his own stamp on the job, in a successful nascent era so far alongside Mickey Arthur as Australia's new coach.
Ponting, for so long the epitome of Australian cricket to partisan crowds in this country, still plans to be around for next summer's Ashes - yet his involvement in 50-over cricket ended when he was dropped and then retired at the start of this year.
“It is the game, isn't it?” Clarke asked rhetorically, on the subject of touring England for the first time without his old captain in tow.
“We all get older unfortunately, and there comes a time where you are not selected in teams any longer.
“Fortunately for us Ricky is still playing Test cricket and is a big part of our Test team - and next time we are here for the Ashes, I’m hoping he will be here with us.”
A clutch of relatively inexperienced batsman have the chance to prove themselves in the meantime, by lending their 31-year-old captain a hand in the run-making department during a series set to get under way at Lord’s next week.
“He’s been such a great player for such a long period of time. Any team would miss Ricky Ponting, and we are no different,” said Clarke, at a press conference in Leicester - where Australia will play their first warm-up match on Thursday before the ODI rubber.
“But after he was dropped from the one-day team, we managed to go on and win that tri-series - and then the boys went to the West Indies and did a good job in pretty tough conditions.
“We are the number-one ranked team in the world but we have not been consistent as we would like as a team - and that’s our goal.”
It would be a fine start to get the better of England.
“We have a lot of talent in our squad and some new faces, and we are looking forward to performing and having some success against England in their own backyard,” added Clarke.
“It looks like they have been playing some really good cricket against West Indies, so we are going to have to be at our best.”
Australia have brought with them a battery of young pace bowlers, part of their reconnaissance for next summer’s Ashes.
Clarke is adamant, though, that neither he nor any of his team-mates will be tempted to think too much just yet about their prospects of regaining the urn or how they are hoping to do so.
“I think it is important for us as a group not to get too carried away with the Ashes,” he added.
“The reality is if we don't perform as a group and as players now, you don’t even worry about the Ashes - because you are not on that trip.
“Yes, it is the pinnacle - so it is in the back of your mind. But we have a lot of cricket in front of us before we worry about the Ashes.”