Clark reignites county row
Stuart Clark is again set to raise the hackles of England's players and officials with confirmation he has agreed terms with Gloucestershire for a two-match stint ahead of the Ashes. The Australian fast bowler prompted a furore in March when he signed with Kent - an arrangement that was eventually scuppered with his call-up to the Australian one-day squad - and is now awaiting a UK visa before taking his place at the County Ground, Bristol.
"All the paperwork went to the consulate today, so hopefully it all goes through pretty quickly," Clark told Cricinfo. "(Gloucestershire) want me to go and I want to be there, so it's just a question of getting the visa through."
A Gloucestershire spokesperson would not confirm on Friday whether an agreement had been struck with Clark, but said negotiations with the Australian paceman had been taking place. Tom Richardson, the Gloucestershire chief executive, has publicly spoken of his desire to replace fast bowler James Franklin while he is on World Twenty20 duty with New Zealand, and recently told BBC Radio Bristol: "Stuart's someone that, were he to be available, we'd be very keen to get him to come and play."
Clark is in search of match practice ahead of the Ashes, following an extended stint on the sidelines due to right elbow surgery. The right-armer has turned out for his grade side, Sydney University, and played in three ODIs for Australia against Pakistan in the UAE since the operation to remove bone spurs in his bowling elbow, but has had no exposure to first-class cricket.
Clark's omission from Australia's 15-man World Twenty20 squad created a window for a county stint, and John Bracewell's Gloucestershire side is ready to accommodate. Should all go to plan, Clark will play in Gloucestershire's four-day matches against Derbyshire (starting June 6) and his former club Middlesex (from June 18), before joining the Australian camp.
"I feel good after the UAE trip and am looking forward to a bit more cricket before the tour games before the Ashes," he said. "I probably could have done with a bit more bowling in the UAE, but I came out of that series feeling pretty good about where I was. I was pretty happy with the way I bowled in the games, and I got a lot of work done in the nets."
Clark's proposed move to Kent prompted anger from many leading figures within England cricket, who argued counties should not provide support to Australian players in an Ashes year. Andrew Strauss, the England captain, accused Kent of "short sightedness", while national selector Geoff Miller described the move as "disappointing".
Asked whether he was expecting another backlash, Clark was succinct: "I am, actually, but I couldn't care less."
Clark is acutely aware of the importance of a thorough Ashes preparation. During his injury-enforced absence, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus excelled in Test matches against South Africa, creating a log-jam of contenders for fast bowling spots ahead of the first Test in Cardiff.
"I think Punter (Ricky Ponting) will be in for a hard time in the nets - he'll be getting it from all of us trying to outdo each other to claim the places that are up for grabs," he said. "I think that will be healthy competition, not you-versus-me stuff, and will bring out the very best in all of us. Mitchell (Johnson) deserves to keep his place after all he's done in the last year, and then it's up to the rest of us to get the other spots."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo