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Andrew Fernando in Melbourne
December 25, 2012
Australia captain Michael Clarke remained hopeful of his participation in the Boxing Day Test despite a hamstring injury, but was confident of his team's prospects under Shane Watson's leadership if he wasn't fit to play. Clarke twinged his hamstring at the crease on the fourth day of the first Test, and was unable to continue his innings. He led the side to a series lead on the field in the fourth innings, but was significantly hampered by the injury, which rarely allowed him to budge from his position at first slip.
Clarke, who underwent a fitness test on the eve of the match, believes he is nearing full fitness, but said he would take the final call before the toss. He had had seven days to recover in between the two Tests, but Australia are unlikely to risk further aggravation of the injury with an important tour of India on the horizon, and back-to-back Ashes series to come later next year.
"I need to see how I pull up tomorrow morning from the workload yesterday and the training today," he said. "Like I've said from day one, I'm pretty positive that I'll be alright for tomorrow. Getting through today has only confirmed that in my mind, but there's no guarantees. I need to wait and see.
"I certainly won't go into the game tomorrow if I think it's going to affect my batting. If I can, I'm keen to get out there and be a part of it. But, if I cannot play at my best in this Test, I'm not doing the team justice by taking part."
Vice-captain Watson will take the reins for the first time in a Test if Clarke is absent, with Usman Khawaja slated to step into the middle order. Watson captained the side in eight ODIs early in the year after Clarke became injured, securing the title in the home ODI tri-series in the deciding final, and squaring a five-match ODI series in the West Indies. Clarke said he had no qualms about leaving the side in Watson's command, even in as important a Test as the Boxing Day fixture.
"I think Watto did a fantastic job in the CB series final and the ODI tour to West Indies. The team is in great hands. I have no doubts about his captaincy ability on and off the field. He's a very good vice-captain. It's about backing your thinking. Watto's a good enough player and has certainly played enough cricket at the highest level to feel what he knows is right. I'm confident that if I don't play, it will have zero impact on the result."
Australia have also brought Tasmania fast bowler Jackson Bird into the playing XI, after Ben Hilfenhaus was ruled out of the Test, having also suffered an injury in Hobart. Bird, 26, is in his second season of domestic cricket for Tasmania, and has collected 87 wickets at 19.72 in first-class cricket. His path to a debut was also paved by the selector's decision to rest Mitchell Starc for the Test, given he is Australia's only bowler who regularly finds a place in all three teams.
"I've seen a lot of Jackson. He's been around for a long time. He's had a really good 12 months. I guess the reason he has had so much success is because of his consistent line and length. He's got good height, he's got good pace and he can swing the ball. Across all the wickets in Australia, he's been able to hit that length consistently. I have no doubt that if he bowls like that at this level, he'll continue to have success.
"As disappointed as Mitchell is to be missing this match, in two months, six months or twelve months, he might be thanking the high performance team for saving his career. By him not playing this Test match, it might mean he can play in Sydney, and the one-dayers, and he can tour India and play the Test matches there. I think we need to be looking at it as a positive. It's full credit to our first-class system that we can rest a player like Mitchell and bring Jackson Bird or Mitchell Johnson in, who can cut it at the top level."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondentFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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