Clarke, selectors at odds over Gabba
Michael Clarke is out of the Gabba Test according to the parameters set by Australia's selectors. But not according to Clarke.
Hours after selectors had marked Friday's two-day tour match against India in Adelaide as his pathway to prove his fitness for the first Test, Clarke bizarrely declared he had been ruled out of that game, yet still insisted he could be passed fit for Brisbane by playing grade cricket.
The selectors Rod Marsh and Mark Waugh had both stated that Clarke had until Wednesday to resume running after his hamstring injury or be ruled out of contention for Brisbane. However a few hours later Clarke said he had already been scratched from the Adelaide match and was still going to try to play on the second Saturday of the grade game between Western Suburbs and Paramatta as a way of proving his fitness.
ESPNcricinfo understands that Clarke spoke to the Australian team physio Alex Kountouris on Monday, being told that it was not realistic for him to expect to play in the tour match but more plausible that he could play the grade game. He then gave the following summary of his fitness at a promotional appearance.
"My goal is to try and get myself fit to play whatever game's available," Clarke said. "The next game on the table that I am available for, if I can be fit, is grade cricket on Saturday. So ideally if I can tick all the boxes along the way and play on Saturday, get through that. Hopefully I can make myself available then it is completely up to the selectors to work out what to do.
"My focus is listening to the experts as I've always done. Over the last 10, 12 years I've been playing for Australia I don't think I've ever walked onto a field not being 100 per cent fit to perform. So I would hope with my experience that the selectors, my teammates, Cricket Australia staff respect my opinion there."
Late on Monday, CA released a statement which, among other things, directly contradicted Clarke's assertion that medical staff had ruled him out of the tour game:
"CA's position has not changed since our announcement of the Test squad. That is, Michael is to continue undergoing daily treatment for his injured hamstring as well as his ongoing back condition, with the aim of increasing his running over the coming days. He is the Australian captain and one of the best batsmen in the world. We obviously want to do all we can to ensure he recovers from his injury with the aim of getting him ready to play for Australia as soon as possible.
"Should he be in a position to really progress his running in the coming days, our desire is that he plays for the CA XI in the two-day tour match against India at the Adelaide Oval this Friday. Accordingly, a final decision on his fitness has not yet been determined and he has not yet been ruled out of the tour match by the CA medical team.
"Should Michael play the tour match and recover well, the selectors have said he will take his place in the Test side. If he is not able to get up for the CA XI game, and given his history with this recurring injury, he will be ruled out of any cricket this week and the First Test and our focus will shift to getting him fit to play the second Test in Adelaide commencing on Friday 12 December."
A 12-man squad had been announced with Clarke subject to fitness, as expected, and Brad Haddin his deputy. Nathan Lyon has kept his place and Josh Hazlewood has been called up.
Speaking in Adelaide, the national selector Marsh had said that Clarke would need to be running by Wednesday in order to be considered fit to try to play in the tour match from Friday. If he cannot play in this fixture, he will not be considered for the Brisbane Test. "If he doesn't start running by Wednesday, Marsh said, "then I think we can safely assume that he won't be playing the Test match."
Waugh said the selectors were concerned that a single day's grade cricket would not be enough to prove Clarke's fitness for a five-day Test, leading them to send him to Adelaide for the tour match. "A few days ago, the selectors spoke about it and Pat Howard spoke about it as well," Waugh said of conversations pre-dating the grade fixture.
"Ideally it would have been great if he played in the Shield match but the time frame just didn't allow that with his injury. So we went for the next best thing and we feel he needs a couple days of cricket to prove his fitness - it's a five-day game Test match cricket, so we felt that was the best way for him to prove his fitness in a two-day game."
But it appears Clarke's intention has always been to play grade cricket in Sydney this Saturday, which led to a bizarre declaration and investigation. When Marsh spoke, Clarke was at the SCG with his fitness trainer Duncan Kerr, not sparing a second in his effort to be fit for Brisbane, and said he had run at "about 50%" on Monday.
Asked whether his ruling out of the Adelaide tour game meant he was out of the first Test, Clarke replied: "I hope not." By naming only a 12-man squad the selectors gave themselves an extra Sheffield Shield round to decide who would replace him. Phillip Hughes, Shaun Marsh and Callum Ferguson will all be especially keen to impress for their states this week.
"We still have some time before having to make a final decision on Michael's fitness," team doctor Peter Brukner said. "As you would expect, he's desperate to play and we are doing all that we can to ensure he can do just that. Over the coming days the plan is to build him up so that he can resume running with the ultimate aim of getting him some high-intensity match practice ahead of the first Test."
Mitchell Starc and Glenn Maxwell were dropped from the side that lost Australia's most recent Test to Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, with Hazlewood called up as expected after his strong start to the summer. Shane Watson has also been recalled having missed the UAE tour due to injury, while Ryan Harris is also in the group having made a promising comeback from knee surgery.
Harris is the only member of the frontline pace attack who will play in the Sheffield Shield round that starts on Tuesday as he aims for more match practice before a likely Test return. Rod Marsh, the chairman of selectors, said the uncapped Hazlewood had been in excellent form in the recent ODI series against South Africa and had earned his call-up.
Test squad Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Steven Smith, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin (vice-capt, wk), Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale