Clarke’s World Cup fitness race turns into a jog

Saturday, 7 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SYDNEY (Reuters): Barring any further setbacks, it appears that Michael Clarke’s return to full fitness and the captaincy of the Australia World Cup team is now a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. The 33-year-old batted, bowled and fielded in an outing for a Cricket Australia XI in Brisbane on Thursday and looks certain to prove his fitness by the deadline of the co-hosts’ second pool match against Bangladesh on 21 February. Giving another in what have become almost daily updates on his recovery from a torn hamstring, Clarke on Friday referred questions of whether he would also be fit for Australia’s tournament opener on 14 February to the team’s medical staff. “I don’t know the answer to that question,” he told reporters in Adelaide. “I have been following (the medical team’s) guidelines from day one and I’m extremely thankful and grateful that I sit in this position now because of their advice and guidance. “I will 100% be dictated by what they feel and believe.” Clarke’s diplomacy was an indication that there was perhaps an element of truth in the view that the peremptory 21 February deadline was something of a slap-down for the Australia skipper. Rumours of splits between Clarke and Cricket Australia, selectors and even his team mates have been widespread in local media for a couple of weeks. Clarke is hoping to feature in a practice match against the United Arab Emirates at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) next Wednesday, which would make him almost certain to face England in their World Cup opener at the same ground three days later. Doubts over Clarke’s fitness have also ignited a fever of speculation over who would replace him as skipper should he not be available for the tournament. George Bailey would normally be expected to step up from the vice-captaincy but many in Australia support the elevation of in-form batsman Steve Smith, who led the test side to a series victory against India over the New Year in Clarke’s absence. Given team physiotherapist Alex Kountouris has said that Clarke’s degenerative back problem means he could break down with another hamstring injury at any time, that discussion could have plenty of mileage in it yet. If fully fit, though, there is no doubt that Clarke’s leadership and batting could have a major bearing on whether Australia can win a fifth World Cup title on 29 March.

Brett Lee to aid Ireland’s WC prep

Brett Lee will join the Ireland team as their bowling coach during the warm-up phase of the World Cup, a Cricket Ireland release said. Lee, who recently retired from all forms of cricket, was a valuable addition to Ireland’s pre-tournament preparations, Phil Simmons, the Ireland coach, said. “Brett Lee has a wonderful knowledge of fast bowling, and his special insight of Australian pitches will help give our bowlers further confidence ahead of their group matches,” Simmons said. “I’m sure all our bowlers will benefit from the experience that a World Cup winner has accumulated, especially in the pressure situations of a global event. It’s a fantastic opportunity for our bowlers to learn from a living legend and one I’m sure they’ll all benefit from.” Lee said he was looking forward to sharing his expertise with younger players, from any team. “I have done work with the India cricket team, I have done work with the IPL, other players around the world,” he said after launching ICC Pro Cricket 2015, the official World Cup game, which has been developed in association with Disney India. “I have done a lot of work with the Australian juniors and current Australian cricketers too. When I get an opportunity to help out the youngsters, it is my chance to further my skills in terms of assessing bowling methods and also to help me give back something to the game of cricket. “I have played a lot of cricket but involvement with youngsters helps me improve, and also makes sure that I am well aware of what the juniors are doing and to keep in touch with the latest methods employed to further skills all around the world.” Ireland are scheduled to play two warm-up matches in Sydney – against Scotland on February 10 and against Bangladesh two days later – before their first match, against West Indies in Nelson. Apart from the two official warm-up matches, Ireland are also scheduled to play a 50-over friendly against Randwick Petersham on Friday, 6 February.