Australia in New Zealand 2009-10 March 10, 2010

Clarke still not locked in for New Zealand Test tour

Cricinfo staff

Cricket Australia hope Michael Clarke will take part in the Test tour of New Zealand but will not know for certain until the end of the week. Clarke left the current one-day trip and returned to Sydney on Tuesday due to "personal issues" involving his fiancée Lara Bingle, who is at the centre of a nude photo scandal.

Clarke has been given leave but Michael Brown, Cricket Australia's deputy, is unsure when the vice-captain will be back. "I've talked to him over the last few days and we have a Test tour looming," Brown said at the SCG. "I would hope he's part of that group. But unless he's ready to go, there's no point going.

"We'll talk again over the next couple of days and our intention hopefully is to get him back in the side for the Test match." The opening game begins in Wellington on March 19 and there is an expectation from those closer to the team that Clarke will be with the squad by then.

Steven Smith and Ryan Harris have been selected for their first Test tours while Marcus North, who has been out of form in 2010, has won a reprieve. North's position was the most contentious but Australia's selectors have extra batting cover in Smith and Phillip Hughes.

North has not scored a half-century in first-class cricket this year and was out for 8 early in Western Australia's first innings at the Gabba on Wednesday morning. "As far as Marcus is concerned, he had a sensational South African and Ashes tour," Hilditch said. "He'd be disappointed with the last few Test matches and the Shield since then, but we think he deserves to be on the tour."

Smith, the batsman-legspinner, and Hughes have been in outstanding form for New South Wales and are seen as long-term prospects - Smith is 20 and Hughes 21 - while Harris sealed his place by taking 27 wickets in 10 one-day internationals. Australia are still without Ben Hilfenhaus, who has missed most of the season with a knee injury, and Peter Siddle is out with a back stress fracture.

"The core of the squad is the Australian Test team that performed so well during the Australian summer in defeating West Indies and Pakistan," Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said. "Ryan Harris, having overcome injuries at the start of the season, has played really well for Australia in the shorter formats of the game." Hilditch sees him as a man who can hurt England during next summer's Ashes.

Hughes has 953 runs at 56.05 in the Sheffield Shield this summer while Smith has started New South Wales' game against Tasmania with 672 at 74.66, including 177 in his previous match in Hobart. "Phillip Hughes has also been in excellent form at state level and richly deserves his selection on the back of another fantastic season," Hildtich said.

"Steve Smith has had an excellent Shield season, including a big century against Tasmania recently, and of course has already demonstrated his ability to cope with the pressure of international cricket. He adds great flexibility to the squad with his exciting stroke-play, legspin bowling and gifted fielding."

Australia squad Simon Katich, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North, Phillip Hughes, Steven Smith, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Hauritz, Ryan Harris, Clint McKay, Doug Bollinger.

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