Clarke ruled out of England match
Michael Clarke has been ruled out of Australia's opening Champions Trophy match against England on Saturday and vice-captain George Bailey will lead the side in his absence. Clarke's involvement in the rest of the tournament also remains uncertain as he continues to battle a long-standing back problem that kept him from playing either of the two warm-up matches against West Indies and India.
"Michael is making steady progress in his recovery from the recent lower back injury but is yet to return to training," Alex Kountouris, the team physio, said on Friday morning. "He will remain in London over the coming days to continue his rehabilitation and will not be available for the first match against England on Saturday. How he responds to the ongoing treatment will determine his availability for the match against New Zealand next Wednesday."
The situation is also a concern for the Australians just over a month from the first Test of the Ashes, for although Clarke has had the back problem since he was a teenager it appears to have affected him more over the past few months than in the past. He missed Australia's most recent Test, the loss to India in Delhi, and it was the first time he has been forced to sit out of a Test due to his back trouble.
On Thursday, Kountouris conceded that the abbreviated nature of the Champions Trophy meant Clarke's participation in any part of it was uncertain and it could also depend on whether the Australians move past the group stage.
"We are just trying to get him right," Kountouris said. "He has had this before so we know how it plays out and we know the treatment that he needs to get him right. But being such a short tournament we're racing against time to get him fit.
"We certainly won't be taking any risks. It is a really important time of the year for us, that goes without saying. This is an important tournament too so we'll get him up for whatever games we can and won't take any stupid risks. Firstly he needs to be pain free, which he's not at the moment.
"Then we need to put him through a series of tests, get him running and batting and get him doing things he'd normally do. We need him training at full intensity before we get him on the park."
News of Clarke's injury has compounded Australia's far from perfect preparation to this event. They were bowled out for just 65 in their warm-up game against India and David Warner, one of their opening batsmen, has been dismissed for 0 in both warm-up games.
But Bailey reacted to the news phlegmatically. "It's a great opportunity for us to prove a lot of people wrong," he said.
"Honestly, I reckon all sides believe they can win the tournament. In terms of a cricket spectacle, that must be really exciting for the fans around the globe knowing that your country is in with a real shot at winning the title.
"Our best is still as good as anyone else or any other teams in the world. If we play our best cricket, I've got no doubt we can win the tournament and we probably will win the tournament.
"There's no doubt it's a blow. We'd love to have Pup with us as a batsman and as our captain. But it is what it is, and we have to deal with the fact that we don't have him for tomorrow. The challenge is there and the opportunity is there for the rest of us to step up, and I know it will be a great boost to the side to know that we can win without him."
Story updated at 0700 GMT to confirm that Clarke had been ruled out and at 1400 to add Bailey's reaction