Aussies start Ashes preparations

MICHAEL CLARKE

MICHAEL CLARKE

First published in International

Australia are at pains to stress the forthcoming NatWest Series against England has limited relevance to next summer's Ashes.

Be in no doubt, though, that Michael Clarke's tourists are on a reconnaissance mission - and one they could really do with winning too, in the five one-day internationals which will begin at Lord's next week.

Australia are still world number one in the ODI format, despite having made it only as far as last year's World Cup semi-finals following imperious victories in the three previous tournaments.

They are still smarting as well - although this is another fact they will naturally not want to dwell on - from losing the Ashes on home soil for the first time in more than a quarter-of-a-century.

The ramifications of that 3-1 defeat have inevitably been significant, and Australia have a new captain since then in both Test and 50-over cricket, in ex-Hampshire batsman Clarke, as well as a new coach, in South African Mickey Arthur.

Both men were in good voice on arrival in England this week, in Leicester, where Australia will tomorrow play their first warm-up match before travelling to face Ireland in Belfast and then back to London.

Arthur responded to questions about the Ashes with a benign grin, and a basic point.

"This is a different format," he said.

"Our focus is that this is a one-day series that we are here to win."

One look at not only the squad Australia have picked against England, but the A team party who will face England Lions later this summer, is enough to conclude they are starting their Ashes plans early.

"There is probably some different personnel here to what we would have for the Ashes, but there are some of our younger players who we are giving a taste of the conditions, so they know what to expect in a year's time," added Arthur.

"We are a changing one-day side and we need to get as much experience and opportunity into some of our younger players as we possibly can."

England were lauded last year not just for the way they played in their historic Ashes campaign but for the meticulous planning which had clearly gone into the expedition.

This time, Australia are taking no chances - a form of imitation, perhaps, which borders on flattery.

Under Clarke, and without Ponting - retired from ODIs but who still hopes to be back for one more Ashes campaign - Australia are inexperienced but full of potential.

Young fast bowlers Pat Cummins and James Pattinson are included, for example, in a team with some rising stars among the batsmen too.

Arthur was not about to fall into the trap of hiding away his best weapons, reasoning exposure to English conditions is more important than trying to take next year's opponents off guard.

"We are looking at other players to stand up and take that responsibility," he said, noting the absence of Ponting as well as ultra-reliable batsman Michael Hussey, who has stayed at home following the premature birth of his fourth child.

"Ricky and Michael are not going to be around forever, and that gives the guys out here a real opportunity to stake their claims and to make their mark and show us they belong.

"I'm looking forward to seeing who stands up and takes this opportunity.

"There was no point in keeping them away from England, because they would just analyse them anyway.

"I would rather see them getting some real good opportunities out here in England, which will broaden their game.

"They haven't played out here. So to come out gives them another bit of experience, and I hope they will be a far better rounded bowlers after this tour."

Arthur is enthused about the new breed of pace bowlers, in particular, who have much to gain over the next three weeks.

He added: "We have got a really good stock of quick bowlers here.

"There are a lot of places up for grabs, and these three warm-up games will determine who we start with.

"There is a lot to play for, certainly in the fast bowling department."

He did not say it, of course. But you can assume that goes for the NatWest Series, and the 2013 Ashes.

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