Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Australia's Clarke taking it slowly ahead of the Ashes

REUTERS , SYDNEY

Australia middle-order batsman Michael Clarke is trying not to get too far ahead of himself as he looks forward to his team's bid to win back the Ashes.

The one-time golden boy of Australian cricket was dropped last year and is now focused simply on earning a place in the side for the first Test in Brisbane starting on Nov. 23.

"Only 11 guys can play in the first Test and I'll just be looking to work as hard as I can and get some runs under my belt," he told reporters yesterday. "The selectors have a few tough calls to make."

Good form

Clarke made a composed 91 in the second innings of the first Test against England at Lord's last year, the highest individual score of the match, helping set up Australia's crushing 239-run win.

Knocks of 40 and 30 at Edgbaston, seven and 39 at Old Trafford, 36 and 56 at Trent Bridge and 25 at The Oval completed a satisfactory Ashes bow for Clarke, but he was dropped from the Test side during the series against West Indies in November.

The dashing right-hander had to watch from the sidelines as the Australians won a tough series in South Africa before earning a recall for the trip to Bangladesh.

"I have been working hard on my batting, not so much my technique but more the mental side of my game," the 25-year-old said. "Test cricket is hard."

"England's bowlers bowled pretty well in the last Ashes series and made the most of the conditions, but it's going to be up to our batters to put enough runs on the board for the bowlers to bowl at," he said.

Clarke followed a sparkling 151 on debut against India in 2004 with 141 in his first Test on home soil against New Zealand and he looked set to be a cornerstone of the Australian middle order for years.

Support

The decision to drop him after a run of failures against the West Indies was controversial, but he still averages 36.22 in 22 Tests and received welcome support yesterday from former Australia middle-order batsman Doug Walters.

"He had a brilliant start to his career but then had one or two hiccups," Walters told the Daily Telegraph.

"But he is going to be a good player for a long time and we have to stick with those guys. Australia needs to play him," he said.

Clarke, often compared with Walters due to their similar fluent strokeplay, has been recharging his batteries since returning from Bangladesh in April with hunting and fishing trips, not even bothering to check on England's form.

"I haven't watched any of the England-Pakistan series to be honest," Clarke said.

"But the Ashes are still 100 days away and we expect them to field a full-strength team. They've got some pretty good players as they showed last time and we've got to make sure we are ready for them," he said.

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