England 'not as strong' without KP - Clarke
Australia's captain Michael Clarke has said he feels for Kevin Pietersen over his ongoing exclusion from the England side and said any team without Pietersen in it was weaker for his absence. Clarke flew out of Sydney on Sunday for Australia's two-Test series in the West Indies, which will be followed by an England tour during which he will aim to lead the first Australian side to win the Ashes in England since 2001.
Clarke's men hold the urn after their 5-0 thrashing of England in Australia in 2013-14, a series during which Pietersen was England's leading scorer. It also marks the last time Pietersen played for his country, and the newly-appointed England director of cricket, Andrew Strauss, last week effectively ruled out any return for Pietersen due to a "massive trust issue" between the two of them.
"There's probably two sides to me, there's the personal side where I feel for KP because I get on well with him," Clarke said. "I'd love to see him back playing cricket for England. His form has been outstanding. He's still a great player. I know he wants to play. I feel for him on that side.
"On the other side, we go there soon to play against England. Any team without Kevin Pietersen in it, I don't think is as strong. I think his statistics speak for themselves. He's been a wonderful player over a long period of time. He's still in career-best form."
However, that was as far as Clarke would be drawn on the Pietersen issue, noting that England had a series against New Zealand before the Ashes and Australia's immediate focus was their trip to the Caribbean. There, the Australians will face a West Indies outfit that under new coach Phil Simmons recently drew a three-Test series with England 1-1.
"The last thing we can afford to do as an Australian team is get caught up in what's happening in England, or West Indies or anywhere else," Clarke said. "I think it's really important we stay focused and make sure we're as well prepared as we can be. Playing away from home is your greatest challenge as an international sporting team. England will be tough.
"When we get there, no matter what XI players they put on the field, they're going to be really tough. They know their conditions really well, as do West Indies. I think it's important we stay really focused on this West Indies tour and try to have some success there.
"They've got a really good bowling attack. I think they swung the ball well, whether that was with the brand new ball or reverse swing. They've got some handy spinners as well. The conditions we're about to face will be very similar to the subcontinent. The wickets will be slow and low and will spin. They're coming off some form against England."
Australia have one warm-up match in the West Indies, a three-day game against a WICB President's XI in Antigua, before the first Test starts in Dominica on June 3. The make-up of the side is not necessarily straightforward, with two members of Australia's most recent Test team - Joe Burns and Ryan Harris - missing from this touring squad.
That could mean the tour game is an important audition, however it is unlikely that players will be available for that match if their teams make the IPL final, which is to be played on May 24. Shane Watson, Steven Smith, David Warner and Mitchell Starc are among the players who remain in contention to be part of the IPL final.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale