Clarke to play warm-up against UAE
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has confirmed that captain Michael Clarke will play Wednesday's warm-up match against the UAE in Melbourne, barring any mishaps at training before that. However, Clarke still appears a long-shot to take part in the World Cup opener against England on Saturday, and is instead more likely to return on his deadline date of February 21 against Bangladesh.
Clarke's comeback from hamstring surgery in December has been a slow burn, and although he showed encouraging signs by batting in Sydney grade cricket last weekend then batting and bowling against a Bangladesh XI in Brisbane last week, it would be a push to rush him in against England. Lehmann said one of the remaining areas of improvement for Clarke was being 100% in the field.
"Michael, if he gets through training tomorrow, hopefully he'll play the trial game on Wednesday," Lehmann said on Fox Sports on Monday night. "So that's a pleasing thing for us. He's trained the house down ... now it's a case of getting up to speed with the fielding and away he goes from there."
Less than a week before their first World Cup match, Australia have more than just Clarke to worry about. Allrounder James Faulkner has no chance of playing at the start of the tournament after suffering a side strain during the tri-series final against England in Perth, but he remains in the squad and the Australians are hopeful he will play some part later in the tournament.
"He'll have a bat tomorrow in the nets," Lehmann said of Faulkner. "So he's going okay. He won't play the first game."
It means Australia will likely have only 13 players available for selection for the England game at the MCG, with Xavier Doherty and one of Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood the probables to sit out. Players such as Moises Henriques and Shaun Marsh, who took part in the tri-series, could yet be called into the squad if the injury worries worsen, but for now Australia will stick with their existing group.
"Everyone has them ... you just have to cope with it and deal with it," Lehmann said of the injuries. "We have some good depth. We have good players who have missed out, so that's a good sign. If we have some injuries and we have to replace them, so be it. But at the moment they're all ticking along nicely."
Lehmann was part of Australia's World Cup triumphs in 1999 and 2003, but did not play in Australia's previous home World Cup in 1992. However, he has asked players from that tournament, including Geoff Marsh and Ian Healy, to speak to the squad about the pressures of taking on the world in front of home crowds.
"Just enjoy the whole eight weeks," Lehmann said of the advice. "We want to play the best cricket we possibly can and win as many games as we can, but at the end of the day we don't look much further than the England game, then we move to the Bangladesh game, and then New Zealand and see what happens from there. But we'll enjoy the packed houses and the crowd support
"We'll change the way we play, depending on where we play and who we play. At the moment our focus is the MCG, hopefully 90,000 people there watching us and supporting us. We'll worry about playing England first and move from there - that's the way you have to go through the World Cup. You can't look too far ahead."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale