Clarke ruled out of opening clash

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Published: Thursday 12th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Australia captain Michael Clarke has lost his race to be fit for Saturday’s blockbuster World Cup opener against England.

Coach Darren Lehmann confirmed that Clarke would not play at the MCG despite the 33-year-old’s quicker-than-expected recovery from hamstring surgery.

Clarke pulled on an Australia shirt for the first time in two months on Wednesday night, hitting 64 and bowling two overs of spin, as his side finalised their World Cup preparations with a 188-run win over United Arab Emirates.

That sparked speculation Clarke could be set for an early return against England, after Cricket Australia had initially set him a deadline of proving his fitness by the February 21 match against Bangladesh.

But Lehmann confirmed the plan remained for Clarke to return against the Tigers.

“No he’s not playing Saturday,” Lehmann said.

“I’m happy with the way he pulled up, really happy with his progress and we’re going to stick to the plan. He’ll play against Bangladesh.”

Lehmann said Clarke’s hit-out against the UAE could not have gone better, but that he and the medical staff were not willing to take any risks over his comeback.

“(I’m) really happy with the way it has gone,” Lehmann added.

“The way he batted, ran, fielded, bowled – he ticked all the boxes. Now it’s about a good solid week and get ready for Bangladesh.”

Clarke has worked tirelessly around the clock to get himself back to fitness after suffering the injury during the first Test against India in early December.

Lehmann hinted that Clarke had been slightly disappointed to be kept in cotton wool for what looms as one of the biggest matches of the tournament.

“We’ve just had a chat. He’s respectful of what we’re trying to do to get him right,” he said.

“He’s a quality player and a quality leader and while we would have loved to have him available for this game we’re making sure he’s 100 per cent ready to go for Bangladesh.”

While Clarke will miss the game his opposite number, Eoin Morgan, enters it with concerns over his form after he was dismissed for a third duck in four innings in England’s final warm-up match against Pakistan.

Since hitting a century against Australia in the tri-series opener Morgan has got out four times in 18 balls during a miserable return of 0, 2, 0, 0.

“I’d like him to continue that run against us on Saturday, but he’s a fine player,” Lehmann said.

“We’ll come up with our plans as we did in the tri-series, they seemed to be working.”

Lehmann expects an MCG full-house will provide the perfect starting point for Australia’s bid to claim a record fifth World Cup title and denied suggestions playing at home could work against his team.

“I hope a lot of Australians come out to watch that first games – 90,000 people is going to be fantastic to see,” he said.

“The players are going to be in for a thrill. It’s going to be exciting times for both teams and hopefully we get fantastic support.”

India are one of only two home nations to have won the World Cup after they lifted the trophy four years ago.

“There’s pressure on any team at any World Cup no matter where you are playing,” he added.

“For us it’s about embracing our own country, entertaining them and playing the brand of cricket we have done in the last 18 months in the one-day format.

“If we do that the results will look after themselves. I’m only worried about England in the first game.”

Australia will go into the game with only 13 fully-fit players with all-rounder James Faulkner to sit out alongside Clarke with the side strain he suffered in the tri-series final.

Lehmann believes Faulkner is on track to make a return during the World Cup after it was initially feared his tournament could be over.

“He’s batting comfortably now so that’s a good sign for us,” he said.

“We’re dictated by the medical team with that and hopefully he’ll resume bowling very shortly.”

Published: Thursday 12th February 2015 by The News Editor

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