- Australia in England 2012
Clarke: England tour good preparation for Ashes
Australia's captain Michael Clarke believes the upcoming one-day tour of England will be valuable preparation for next year's Ashes, but he maintains his men are not yet thinking about regaining the urn. The ODI squad flew out on Thursday for a five-match series against England and one in Ireland. Australia A will also follow the national team to England in July and August to play two three-day and two four-day matches.
The result is that the vast majority of Australia's likely Ashes squad will have the chance to acquaint - or reacquaint - themselves with English conditions a year out from the Test series. For young men like Pat Cummins and James Pattinson the experience will be especially valuable as they aim to become familiar with the Duke ball, the difference in swing and seam movement and the venues they will see come Ashes time.
"It is important they get some cricket in English conditions, whether that's with the one-day team or they stay on with the Australia A team and play a couple of those games," Clarke said of his young bowlers. "But I think just being in England, seeing what conditions are like, if they get an opportunity [they should] grab it with both hands.
"The Ashes is a long way from my mind right now. But any opportunity you get to play in the same conditions as you're going to play in 12 or 15 months' time can only be good for a team. I think a lot of guys involved in this one-day squad have a big chance of being part of the Ashes team in 12 months' time. I think it's really important we get as accustomed to those conditions as we can and have some success over there."
This week, the Australians were presented with the ICC's ODI shield after finishing the season as the No.1-ranked one-day side, despite their struggle at the World Cup last year. In the past 12 months, Clarke's men have won just over half of their ODI matches and while they haven't lost a series during that time, they have had some close calls, including a 2-2 draw with West Indies in March.
"We've been the No.1 one-day team in the world for a while now," Clarke said. "But we need to continue to raise the bar. I think our cricket in the shorter form of the game of late hasn't been as consistent as we would like. Once we get on a plane today it's probably the start of a two-year journey for this Australian team, whether it be the one-day team, the Test team or the T20 team, to have a lot of success and get back to being the No.1 team in all three forms of the game."
Australia will need to find their peak one-day form without one of their best players, after Michael Hussey withdrew from the tour. Peter Forrest has been drafted into the squad to replace Hussey but he might not initially find a place in the starting line-up, with Clarke, George Bailey, David Hussey and Steven Smith all available for middle-order positions. Clarke said there was no doubt in his mind who would take the Michael Hussey role of steering the middle-order towards the end of tricky chases.
"Fortunately God gave us a brother to Michael Hussey," Clarke said. "We're very lucky we've got David. Last summer I think he got to show the country that he cannot just play at the highest level but can be very successful. I'm pretty sure while Mike Hussey is away, Dave Hussey will be there to fill those boots."
Australia won't be the only ones missing a key senior batsman during the series, which will be England's second since the retirement of Kevin Pietersen from the format. The Australians will keep an eye on how England perform without Pietersen during the upcoming ODI series against West Indies, but Clarke said he was pleased the Australians would not have to worry about countering him this year.
"I'm surprised that he retired from the shorter form of the game, because of how good he is," Clarke said. "And he's only 31 years of age. Obviously the ECB has different rules to Australian players in regards to our contracts - I'm not part of the T20 team but I'm still eligible to play one-day cricket and vice-versa.
"As an opposition player to Kevin Pietersen, I'm thrilled I don't have to play against him in one-day cricket because he's such a good player. He's had a lot of success and he's match-winner. But England have a lot of good players in their team, they enjoy the shorter form of the game, they've got some good talent coming through and they're running high with confidence after just beating West Indies [in the Tests]."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here