Clarke to miss Australia's first game
Michael Clarke will not be rushed back for Australia's World Cup opener against England at the MCG on Saturday despite his encouraging performance in a warm-up win over the UAE on Wednesday. Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has confirmed Clarke will instead stick to the original timeline for recovery from his hamstring surgery, and is expected to return against Bangladesh on February 21.
On Thursday morning, Clarke jogged and walked laps of the MCG at a light training session following Australia's comprehensive win over the UAE, in which he top scored with 64 and bowled two overs. There could have been a temptation for Australia's selectors to view that performance as evidence he was ready to play against England, but Lehmann said a cautious approach was best.
"Happy with the way he pulled up and really happy with his progress," Lehmann said. "But we're going to stick with the plan and he'll play against Bangladesh. Really happy with the way it's gone, the way he batted, ran, fielded, bowled, he ticked all the boxes. A good solid week [ahead] and get prepared for Bangladesh."
Clarke still has some fitness tests to pass before he is cleared to return to the side, but his progress has impressed the team medical staff and he is not expected to be in doubt for the Bangladesh game at the Gabba. Lehmann said that although Clarke was itching to return in more than a warm-up capacity, he understood the reasons for sitting out of the England game.
"He's very keen to play but we've got to make sure that when he gets back he'll be ready to go, and he will be on Saturday [next] week," Lehmann said. "We just had a chat. He's respectful of what we're trying to do, get him right. He's a quality player and a quality leader. Whilst we would have loved to have him available for this game, we're making sure he's 100% and ready to go for Bangladesh."
Clarke was not the only injured player jogging laps at the MCG on Thursday, with allrounder James Faulkner also enjoying a light training run as he continues his recovery from a side strain. Faulkner has batted in the MCG nets this week but the timeline for his return is unclear. He is no chance of playing against England, and may be reserved for the second half of the tournament.
"He's batting comfortably now, so that's a good sign for us," Lehmann said. "We're just dictated by the medical team at the moment with that. Hopefully he'll resume bowling very shortly. We'll wait and see on that one."
Faulkner's absence means Australia will need their other seam-bowling allrounders, Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh, to take on a greater bowling workload, but his finishing with the bat will also be greatly missed. Remarkably, Faulkner is currently ranked 22 on the ICC's ODI batting rankings, and Lehmann said there was some chance he could play as a batsman only.
"We'll look at those options, depending on where we're playing and what the conditions are like, and who we're playing is probably the key," Lehmann said. "We'll look at all of those."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale