Michael Clarke the ‘fittest he has been in five years’ amid taxing World Cup fixture

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Australian captain Michael Clarke (C) stretches with teammates during a final training session ahead of the 2015 Cricket World Cup Pool A match between Australia and Afghanistan in Perth on March 3, 2015. AFP PHOTO Photo: GREG WOODMichael Clarke says he is the fittest he has been for five years but remains unsure whether his body will be able to withstand the punishing World Cup schedule dished out to Australia.

While the captain’s frequent flyer points will have swelled this week after criss-crossing the country, more pressing is the impact the travel will have on his  dodgy back and hamstrings.

If Australia’s medical staff had their hearts in their mouth every time Clarke broke out of a canter before his latest surgery, they will be even more nervous over the next week.

Clarke is adamant there is no link between travelling and his injuries though sitting down for long periods is hardly the ideal method of managing the back and hamstring problems that have plagued him since he was 17.

The Australians had a 7½-hour flight from Auckland to Perth on Sunday for Wednesday’s game against Afghanistan and will spend another four hours in the skies on Thursday, travelling to Sydney for their next game, against Sri Lanka.

Clarke said there was little more he could do to manage his condition on the plane.

“I’ve never done it before so I’m about to find out. Obviously [with] a 7½-hour flight, it takes some time to recover from that but the boys have certainly done that, with pool recovery, rehab, individual recovery as well – guys getting what they need,” he said.

“And we’ve got a lot of resources as well. We’ve got so much staff – massage therapist, physio, doctor, strength and conditioning, whatever you need it’s there, staying at a magnificent hotel as well so they’ve got great facilities.

“I think all the guys have trained really well today so that’s probably the best sign – the fact we were able to walk out and train at full intensity today shows that the boys have recovered well and are ready for tomorrow.”

Clarke, as is his habit, was the first to arrive at training on both days in Perth. On Tuesday, while the rest of the team was arriving, he was stretching and limbering up on the field.

“I think recovery has always been an important part of my cricket. I’ve had a back injury since I was 17. My treatment, preparation and training hasn’t changed since then, it won’t change until the end of my career,” Clarke said.

“We just continue to learn from other people and take their expertise in regards to people who have had chronic back injuries and see if it helps me. I feel as fit and as healthy as I’ve felt in five years. That’s a real positive sign.

“I’ve got to keep my maintenance up, keep listening to the medical staff and doing as they ask because I feel like it’s helping me at the moment.”

Unlike last week, Clarke is pleased with his team’s preparation for the game, though he is clearly jaded by the ongoing speculation over his relationship with coach Darren Lehmann.

Australia will wait and see how their players pull up from a “pretty tough” session on Wednesday before finalising their XI but James Faulkner is expected to return, replacing the injured Pat Cummins.

There could be a further change with Josh Hazlewood in line to come in if selectors deem it necessary to launch an all-out pace assault on Afghanistan at the WACA. That would leave Mitch Marsh in danger of losing his place.

Steve Smith will play despite being hit on the hand while batting in the nets. He had his hand iced before returning later to complete the session.

Australia will start at Black Caviar odds but have been impressed by Afghanistan’s performances this tournament, most notably pace duo Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran.

“I think they’ve performed really well,” Clarke said.

“The wicket looks fantastic out there, so there might be a bit of pace and bounce as well for their opening bowlers who have done a very good job throughout this tournament.”

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