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ASHES: AUSTRALIA WAIT ON FITNESS OF MICHAEL CLARKE

By NBF News
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First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

Australia could wait until the morning of the first Ashes Test at Brisbane on Thursday before deciding whether vice-captain Michael Clarke is fit to play.

Clarke missed training on Monday with an ongoing back injury but did take part in a net session on Tuesday.

Captain Ricky Ponting confirmed they would “probably wait until Thursday”.

But bowler Mitchell Johnson was more upbeat and said: “He [Clarke] felt pretty good with the throw-downs and with the batting so that's good signs.”

Clarke has suffered with a chronic back problem for much of his Test career and his condition flared while he was playing for New South Wales 10 days ago.

Australia have called up 23-year-old New South Wales batsman Usman Khawaja as standby before releasing leg-spinning all-rounder Steve Smith to keep their squad at 13.    It is my feeling that the two teams look evenly matched on paper and we can expect a closely fought encounter

Justin Langer in his BBC Sport column
Losing Clarke would be a blow for the hosts as they look to win back the Ashes but Johnson is confident that Khawaja would be able to step-up if required.

“Not having Michael in the team would be a big loss,” stated the paceman. “But I don't think we'll be a lesser side [with Khawaja playing].

“Usman has come in and he has had a magnificent year, as he did last season.

“He is not as experienced as Michael. But we make everyone feel comfortable; everyone is worth their spot when they come in.    606: DEBATE

Khawaja is an exciting player but I'd be happy to see him play

England_Cricket_Fan
“Whether or not Michael makes it, there's always someone pushing him to do his best.”

Regardless of who plays for Australia, Alistair Cook believes England are prepared for all eventualities.

The tourists' opener said: “We've prepared both ways – whether he [Clarke] plays or not, we're focused on what we want to do.

“Australia are a hugely competitive side every time they play – and with England coming in probably the biggest Test series there is, they don't need any more motivation,” Cook said.