Australia v New Zealand, 1st Test, Brisbane November 18, 2008

Symonds 'in a great place at the moment' - Clarke

Despite all the controversy surrounding Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke guaranteed all the players were happy to have him around © AFP

Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds were as tight as a slips cordon before Clarke, Australia's stand-in captain, was part of a group that sent the allrounder into two months of exile. Symonds came back in to the squad this week following his off-field rehabilitation and is a strong chance to return to the starting XI against New Zealand in Brisbane on Thursday, despite a lean streak for Queensland and the strong claims of other players in and out of the side.

A cocktail party on Monday night helped Symonds rejoin the group following his poorly timed fishing trip in Darwin, but already there is a feeling not much has changed. A couple of players have said Symonds is the same as before - they genuinely mean it is a good thing - but while he was away there was hope for a change of behavioural pattern.

"It's probably been exactly how it was before he left, which has been great for both of us," Clarke said of his relationship with Symonds. "It's always good to see Symo back. It is really good having him back and I think our relationship, as you guys have seen today, we are going well."

Clarke guaranteed all the players were happy to have Symonds around and the allrounder was "in a great place at the moment". "The main thing that Symo has done is look at himself in the mirror and worked out for himself what he needed to do to get back into this team," Clarke said. "That was a big priority for the leadership group and the team. We wanted Symo to do that and it's great to see he's done that."

One serious concern is Symonds' batting after he scored only 70 runs for Queensland in three Sheffield Shield matches before being brought in to the 13-man Test squad. He was having more trouble during a training session in the Gabba's indoor nets - which offer significantly less movement than the ones outside - on Tuesday, but there was not a lack of intensity in his shouting after he edged a couple of deliveries. The words echoed in the ears of some primary school children who attended the practice as part of Cricket Australia's in2cricket programme, and they also heard an upset Shane Watson after he was struck in the chest by a Mitchell Johnson short ball.

Watson performed admirably at No. 6 during the tour of India, but Symonds' game-breaking abilities give him an advantage in a head-to-head contest with his Queensland team-mate. More rain fell in Brisbane on Tuesday, increasing the likelihood of a pace-heavy attack, which improves the chances of Watson and Stuart Clark playing ahead of the offspinner Jason Krejza.

"A few guys have asked [the chairman of selectors] Andrew Hilditch what's happening with the team and I think his response at the moment is that he's got no idea because we haven't seen the wicket," Clarke said.

He is ready for the change from the flat Indian surfaces to a Brisbane greentop, even though the players have been restricted to one short batting stint outside since training began on Monday.

"It probably just affects your preparation more than anything else," Clarke said. "As a player you've got to prepare like the sun is going to be shining on Thursday morning and you are ready to go. Not being able to train outside today and a little bit of rain at training yesterday probably affects us a little bit, but it's the same for both teams."

New Zealand's seamers are more familiar with these conditions and it will be a testing time for Australia's batsmen following their troubles with the swinging ball in India. "Especially the way the weather's been, that should help their bowlers," Clarke said. "I definitely believe they've got a good enough attack to give us a headache if we don't bat well."

Clarke, who lost 4kg on the India tour, has recovered from a chest infection that hindered him in the fourth Test in Nagpur, although despite a bright smile he still looks a little on the skinny side. He was relieved to return home and discover the exact nature of the problem.

"I feel fine now, I had a good hit yesterday and a good hit today," he said. "I don't think it's affected my body and being back in Australia as well - eating a bit of good Aussie food - has put a bit of weight back on me as well. So I think I'll be fine."

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo