NOTTINGHAM, England — Australia captain Michael Clarke is under no illusions about the challenge his team is facing when the Ashes series against England starts Wednesday at Trent Bridge.
“We come here as underdogs, there’s no doubt about that,” Clarke said. “It would be a great achievement (to win) for all the work we’ve put in but now it’s about going out there on the biggest stage and playing well.”
Clarke is Australia’s only injury worry, and while he declared himself “100 percent” fit to play, he acknowledges that “my back (complaint) is something I’ve got to live with every day for the rest of my life.”
England counterpart Alastair Cook acknowledged his side is expected to prevail across the five tests and make it three series victories in a row and four out of the past five, but downplayed his team’s heavy favoritism.
“What we’re very aware of is that cricket isn’t played on paper and never has been played on paper,” Cook said. “I think we’ve got to try not to blow it out of proportion and use huge words like it’s a massive game. You have to keep yourselves true to what you are and try and remember it’s just another game of cricket.”
Clarke was equally unwilling to antagonize the opposition. “Every time I’ve played England it’s been tough, whether it’s the short form of the game or test cricket,” he said. “In my career, both teams have always had the utmost respect for each other.”
He also revealed the Australia team had already been selected and that the players had been told, however he wasn’t about to make the information public. The only selection issue for the hosts concerns who out of Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Graham Onions completes the four-man bowling attack, but Cook was offering even fewer clues than Clarke.
“We’re pretty happy with the composition of our side,” Cook said. Clarke was slightly more effusive about the playing conditions, with bright sunshine predicted for the duration of the match and the pitch expected to take turn.
“Having 600 runs on the board would be nice,” Clarke said. “I think the first innings, whether you’re batting first or second, is going to be massive. Reverse swing and spin is going to play a big part.”
For any Australian cricketer — let alone the captain — to acknowledge underdog status is highly unusual. But while Clarke’s side may lack the cachet of some of its predecessors, the series is unlikely to be the walkover many pundits were predicting during the shambolic early stages of Australia’s tour of England.
After a series of issues culminated in the firing of coach Mickey Arthur, the tourists seem to have stabilized under replacement Darren Lehmann. “What’s happened so far on this tour, I couldn’t have asked for any more from these players,” Clarke said. “Now it’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do.”
And if Cook shares the disappointment of some England fans that the opposition is no longer in disarray, he wasn’t about to let it show. “We don’t pay too much attention to the other dressing room,” he said. “We try and concentrate solely on ourselves. We’ve always known it’s going to be on hell of a battle.
“The Australians are fine, fine cricketers and we’re going to have to be at our best to put them under pressure. They’ve got some world-class players and that’s the bottom line.”