Clarke returns with 64 as Australia rout UAE
Australia 304 for 8 (Clarke 64, Finch 61, Smith 59, Aziz 3-56) beat UAE 116 (Patil 31) by 188 runs
Michael Clarke's steady comeback from hamstring surgery continued at the MCG, where he made 64, then bowled and fielded effectively in Australia's clinical victory over the UAE in their final World Cup warm-up game. Clarke top-scored in Australia's 304 for 8, with Aaron Finch and Steven Smith also scoring half-centuries, before the UAE batsmen struggled against Australia's pace and were dismissed for 116.
It was an encouraging outcome for Clarke, who has been given a deadline of Australia's second match against Bangladesh on February 21 to prove he has returned to full fitness. Australia's coach Darren Lehmann was cagey when asked during Australia's innings whether Clarke had any chance to play in their opening game against England on Saturday.
"We'll sum it up tomorrow, see how he pulls up more than anything," Lehmann told Fox Sports after Clarke had batted. "[If he] gets through the fielding, bowls some overs and we'll see what happens from there ... I'm not saying anything."
Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins did most of the damage to the UAE top order, but all eyes turned to Clarke when he sent down two uneventful overs off a few steps. It would still appear a significant gamble to rush Clarke back against England, and he did not appear to be pushing himself to 100% in his running between the wickets, although he did complete some quick singles and an all-run four.
David Warner was rested for this game, which allowed Clarke to open the batting with Finch, and they made a solid enough start. There were a few nervy moments initially for Clarke, including an edge through the vacant gully region and a difficult chance at cover off the bowling of Mohammad Naveed that Amjad Ali could not grasp.
But in front of a small crowd of 3050, Clarke gradually found his touch, clipping Naveed through wide mid-on for a boundary and pulling him over mid-on for another four. He also lofted effectively, although on 64 from 61 balls he miscued when he tried to work the offspinner Nasir Aziz through the leg side and a top edge landed safely in the hands of Shaiman Anwar at long-on.
Finch had brought up his fifty with a long six straight down the ground off the medium pace of Krishna Chandran, but on 61 from 68 balls he became the first man to fall when he lofted a catch to long-on from the bowling of Aziz. It became three consecutive long-on dismissals when Shane Watson also sent a catch there off Mohammad Tauqir for 34.
That brought Smith and George Bailey together and the difference in form was plain to see. Smith put the ball wherever he wanted, working the gaps as he has all summer. Bailey settled for picking up runs where he could, and spending time at the crease. Smith was eventually lbw for 59 from 50 balls when he tried to reverse sweep Aziz, who took 3 for 56.
Bailey battled on and picked up three fours and one six, but could not get to his half-century, caught at long-on for a run-a-ball 46 when he tried to muscle Chandran down the ground. It was the second wicket for Chandran, who had claimed Mitchell Marsh for 7 when a top-edge was well taken by Tauqir, running back from mid-on.
Brad Haddin was bowled for 5, slogging across the line off Amjad Javed, and Australia were in danger of not batting out their overs at 7 for 285 in the 48th over. Glenn Maxwell, shunted down the order after spending plenty of time at the crease against India in Adelaide, clubbed a six over long-on but was caught on the boundary when he tried a repeat off Chandran.
Although Naveed showed some impressive pace and Aziz was effective, the UAE bowlers were unable to contain the Australians to a total they could realistically chase. Andri Berenger drove Hazlewood handsomely down the ground for four and Amjad Ali scored a couple of neat boundaries off Mitchell Johnson, including a pull through square leg, but then the wickets started to fall.
Berenger (6) tickled Hazlewood down leg side and was brilliantly taken by a diving Haddin, before Amjad top-edged a pull and was caught at cover, also off Hazlewood, for 21. Khurram Khan edged behind off Cummins for 4, and when Chandran was yorked by Cummins, the UAE were in trouble at 43 for 4.
Australia's fielding was generally outstanding throughout the match, and none was better than Maxwell's catch to get rid of Shaiman Anwar for 19. Anwar top-edged Marsh and Maxwell, running in from midwicket, dived forward and picked up the catch with his left hand close to the turf.
Watson also snared a couple of excellent catches at slip, including a one-handed take when the UAE's top scorer, Swapnil Patil, edged Johnson for 31. Watson bowled Saqlain Haider for a duck, Naveed edged Xavier Doherty to Watson at slip for 8, Rohan Mustafa was stumped off Maxwell for 15, and the 188-run win was confirmed when Watson again took a slip catch off Doherty to get rid of Tauqir for 1.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale