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Clarke wary of Champions League

Australia's captain Michael Clarke is making doubly sure the Champions League that follows it will impinge as little as possible on Australia's preparations for a Test series with top-ranked South Africa

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Doug Bollinger steams in, India v Australia, 1st Test, Mohali, 4th day, October 4, 2010

Doug Bollinger fell afoul of the Champions League in 2010  •  Getty Images

As many of his international teammates settle into Sri Lanka ahead of the World Twenty20, Australia's Test captain Michael Clarke is making doubly sure the Champions League that follows it will impinge as little as possible on preparations for a series with top-ranked South Africa.
Not required for either the World T20 or the Champions League, Clarke will instead lead New South Wales for the early start of the domestic season, which has itself been pushed forward by the presence of the T20 club competition in October.
The timing of the event, and its demands on players, has long been a sore point among Test match representatives. This was never more evident than after Michael Hussey and Doug Bollinger had their preparations for a series in India hopelessly compromised by needing to remain in South Africa for the Champions League until only three days before the Tests began.
Then Ricky Ponting's vice-captain, Clarke said lessons had been learned. He is now working with the national team's coaching staff and the team performance manager Pat Howard to ensure the likes of Brad Haddin, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus, David Warner and Hussey can come back from the event ready and able to push South Africa for five days rather than 40 overs.
"I think we can certainly learn from that, that's for sure, and I think we are," Clarke said of 2010. "Pat Howard's been exceptional in regards to our planning, he's made no bones about prioritising Test cricket, he wants us to have success in Test cricket, he wants us to be the No. 1 Test team in the world. We've got to prepare well and the preparation starts as soon as the boys get back from the T20 World Cup.
"The advantage is that all countries are affected the same way, it's not just the Australian players, we play against South Africa in November and there's a lot of their players involved as well. It's fair for everybody. It's important that everybody who's there for Champions League plays well there, has some success, but in the back of their mind thinking about the Test series against South Africa.
"The young bowlers over there will be monitored, we'll have Ali de Winter over there working on their bowling workloads, and bowling through that period with a red ball. I wish the boys all the best over there, hopefully they come back full of confidence and ready to go for that first Test."
De Winter's presence as Australia's bowling coach will be a significant help to the preparations of the fast bowlers, and a major improvement on the problems of 2010. Back then, Bollinger was given a program to work on while still playing for Chennai, but the presence of de Winter in the country will go a long way towards ensuring such plans are rigorously followed this time.
The former coach Tim Nielsen has previously recalled the episode as an instance when Cricket Australia's board and management did not support the performance objectives of the team, a scenario that hastened Howard's appointment following the Argus review to ensure such objectives were not compromised.
"I understand CA's decision, but Doug Bollinger was playing four-over cricket right as the tour started, then broke down in the first Test," Nielsen said last year. "I've no doubt if [he was] fit and right and bowling full-time we'd have won that Test match in Mohali.
"I can't imagine an AFL team would let their bloke go and do something like that [before a big game]. They look after their players as best they can for what's important; they don't compromise. That was one thing in my career as a coach I was a little bit upset about - that we didn't get 100% support from CA, and our team was compromised by that."
Clarke is also grateful for the chance to spend time playing for NSW, in addition to leading them for the first time. His retirement from T20Is has afforded the odd window for rest and first-class cricket, granting Clarke a better chance of prospering when the South Africa Tests come around.
"It's an advantage for me to get back into some red ball cricket, that was a reason for me retiring from international T20 cricket a couple of years ago," Clarke said, "to allow me to work hard on my one-day game and my Test game, and there's no better preparation than to get back and play for NSW.
"I think it's great for first-class teams to have their international players back playing. I think the game needs it, I think the international players need to get back to play with their state or play for their grade club, I think it's really important for the game.
"I remember fondly having the chance to play with Steve Waugh when he captained Australia and what the feeling was like when he was around training. It gives you that little extra boost, I wanted to spend time in the middle with him, I wanted to score some runs with him, I wanted to show him I could play."

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