Australia 'focused on Champions Trophy'
Michael Clarke will return home from England in September either gutted at an Ashes defeat or exultant at a triumph. But Clarke flew out of Sydney on Sunday night conscious that Australia's near four-month tour begins not with the main attraction but with a curtain-raiser that has as its reward another prize: the Champions Trophy. And while it is not in the same league as the Ashes in terms of prestige, Clarke believes a strong start to the trip is important to Australia's Test chances.
Australia's one-day and Test squad members will arrive in England from various ports of call - some have been at home, some at the IPL, some in county cricket and coach Mickey Arthur has been in South Africa. Some have been playing cricket, some have been training at home. Seven members of the Champions Trophy group will also take part in the Ashes, and Clarke hopes the tour begins on a high, especially when Australia meet England in a group match at Edgbaston on June 8.
"I'm looking forward to certainly getting stuck into some cricket," Clarke told reporters in Sydney on Sunday night. "It's been a good break for guys to train, get fit, get some batting and bowling under their belts, but I think everyone, the players, media, the public, are well and truly looking forward to seeing some cricket. Obviously the build-up and the talk is going to be about the Ashes, but for us as a team we're very focused on the Champions Trophy.
"Our record is outstanding in the Champions Trophy, we've won the last couple. This is the last time we'll have a Champions Trophy tournament so the motivation is going to be there. If we can have success in this one-day tournament and drag that confidence and momentum into the first Test I think that will be very handy."
Australia begin with two Champions Trophy warm-up matches against West Indies and India in Cardiff on Saturday and Tuesday next week, before they move on to the tournament proper and group clashes with England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Should they make it to the final, they will have only a few days before their first Ashes warm-up, a four-day fixture against Somerset beginning on June 26.
Another tour match against Worcestershire follows in the lead-up to the first Test and those two games will be important for Australia to assess their best XI and particularly their batting line-up, given the struggles of the batsmen in India and the presence of five potential openers in the Ashes party. Clarke said Australia would take their challenges as they came, first with the one-day tournament and then with the Ashes.
"We know we've got a lot of work to do to have success in both sections of this tour, in regards to the Champions Trophy and then the Ashes," he said. "We've got to play some amazing cricket, but I know all the players are up for the challenge.''
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here