The Ashes 2013-14 October 29, 2013

Ashes captains back to back

About the same time as Australia's captain Michael Clarke put his fragile back through a final training session before his expected Sheffield Shield return with New South Wales, his opposite number Alastair Cook was jogging gingerly around the fringes of England's training session in Perth with a back problem of his own.

Cook's apparent lack of mobility can be attributed, at least partly, to the rigours of a long-haul flight - the same problem that caused Clarke's more serious back ailment to flare up before the Ashes series in England.

It is not thought to be serious, but Cook was unable to bat and it remains to be seen whether he will take his place in the England XI for the tour opener against a Western Australia XI at the WACA ground from Thursday.

Stuart Broad trained with similar conservatism, but it was the sight of Cook struggling to get limber that provided a reminder that problems of Clarke's ilk are common to many batsmen, and that a freeze-up can occur at any time.

The degenerative discs that had Clarke sounding unusually downbeat about his Gabba prospects earlier in the month are now cause for greater optimism. Clarke's assiduous training and fitness habits have allowed him to regain his former flexibility, though it remains to be seen how his back responds this time to a steady diet of cricket.

"I've been able to manage it with a lot of help from my physio and doctors since I've been 17 years of age and I've only missed one Test to date so hopefully that's a real positive sign for me going forward," Clarke said. "I certainly don't believe my back will play a part in regards to shortening my career. It will be more a case of if I'm not performing the selectors will drop me, and hopefully I can get to a day where a few years on from now I'll have the opportunity to retire."

Clarke offered a little more insight into his plans to be ready for what is likely to be a tall and bounce-extracting English pace attack, devised, at least partly, to stiffen the Australia captain's back through constant ducking and weaving. Clarke had his throwdowns and bowling machine offerings delivered from a greater height before facing up to Morne Morkel last summer, and will do so again over the next three weeks.

"Little things like getting throwdowns or using the bowling machine, put up on a platform to give it more height, we can do a lot of stuff like that," Clarke said "I've probably done that over the past couple of years before we played South Africa and Morne Morkel and also before the Ashes. We'll get an opportunity when we get to Brisbane to prepare as well as we can, but the guys will be preparing in their own individual ways to combat our opposition."

The other combat Clarke spoke of at the SCG nets was not of the kind that he will want to perpetuate - the history wars currently being fought around the release of his predecessor Ricky Ponting's autobiography. Some of its most pungent passages are reserved for Clarke, who is portrayed less as a loyal vice-captain than a leader-in-training who also possessed a little too much eagerness to get away from the dressing room.

Ponting has said he hopes Clarke reads the book himself before discussing the issues he raised, maintaining his account is truthful and balanced, if not always airbrushed to his successor's liking. Clarke was privately angered by his portrayal, but at the SCG nets was not prepared to diverge from his current narrative of rejuventation in time to prepare for the first Test against England at the Gabba.

"Ricky has my number. We've spoken for the last 15 years so I don't think anything will change," Clarke said. "I'm very focused on what's in front of me and making sure I'm as well prepared as I can be for this first Sheffield Shield game. I've said what I had to say on that issue. For me it's about looking forward and preparing for tomorrow's game and looking forward to a huge summer. I'm very focused on cricket and I certainly won't let anything take my mind off that."

What Clarke had said over the weekend was that he wished Ponting had spoken to him privately about his concerns before publishing them. Ponting, though, has written that there had been plenty of opportunities for Clarke to pay heed to the counsel of both his then captain and also the coach at the time, Tim Nielsen.

It is an issue Clarke does not need nor want to deal with on the outskirts of an Ashes series in which he will be under pressure both to perform and also to emerge victorious. But like the back ailment he has carried since his teenage years, and the gingerness which may be causing a momentary hiccup for Cook, Ponting's words cannot be easily ignored.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here