Australia’s first training session of their tour of Zimbabwe also yielded their first casualty, with captain Michael Clarke suffering a slight hamstring injury that is likely to force him out of the tri-series tournament opener on Monday.
Having enjoyed his longest break away from cricket in a number of years, Clarke did not make it through the team’s warm-up ahead of a low-key training session at the Harare Sports Club today before he experienced pain his left hamstring.
He immediately returned to the dressing room for treatment, and took no further part in the session.
A spokesman for the team confirmed to cricket.com.au that Clarke will be monitored over the coming days but it seems unlikely he would be risked for Australia’s opening match of the tournament - that features South Africa and Zimbabwe – against the host nation on Monday.
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It is unclear whether the lengthy plane journey from Sydney to Harare (via Johannesburg) on Wednesday had a negative impact on Clarke who has battled a chronic back injury throughout his international career.
“We will monitor his condition closely over the next 24 hours to see how he responds to further treatment before making a decision on his management," team physiotherapist David Beakley said in Harare today.
With a Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates to follow the Zimbabwe tri-series and Australia facing a non-stop schedule stretching over two years, team management is expected to take a conservative approach with their skipper and star batsman.
But it is a disappointing setback for Clarke who has enjoyed an unprecedented five-month break from competitive cricket since he led Australia to a famous Test series win in South Africa, during which he suffered a fractured shoulder.
In his absence, Australia would be led by limited-overs vice-captain George Bailey.
And it would provide another fortunate break for Clarke’s close friend and former New South Wales teammate Phil Hughes, who is likely to take the injured skipper’s place in the starting XI and accompany Aaron Finch at the top of the batting order.
Hughes, who has been in outstanding form for Australia A during the winter but was controversially overlooked for the initial Zimbabwe touring party, was a late inclusion when allrounder Shane Watson sprained his ankle at the Australians’ pre-departure training camp.
Spinner Nathan Lyon, looking to resume his ODI career after almost two years out of favour with the national selectors at one-day level, was another to put a scare through the Australian team management at today’s brief training session.
Lyon was the only specialist bowler to roll his arm over in the nets, and for his trouble was struck a thunderous blow on the left ankle when he failed to scamper out of the way of a crisply struck Steve Smith straight drive.
Lyon was keen to continue bowling shortly after the incident, but was instructed to return to the rooms where he applied ice to the bruised area.
He is not considered to be in any doubt for the first of Australia’s four matches in the round robin tournament that finishes with a series final on September 6.
A handful of batsmen had a hit in the nets, while others worked on their slips catching under the eye of new consultant fielding coach Greg Blewett and some – including Hughes and the squad’s fast bowlers – did little more than stretching exercises and light jogging.
At their first hit-out in Harare, Australia shows they won't be bound by convention in tri-series v Zim & S Africa pic.twitter.com/TBRxub5pm2— Andrew Ramsey (@ARamseyCricket) August 22, 2014
But young quick Kane Richardson said the preparation will step up noticeably at tomorrow morning’s session in Harare, as the team prepares for the first stage of an ODI campaign that culminates in the 2015 ICC World Cup to be staged in Australia and New Zealand from next February.
“For a lot of the guys it’s good to get the Australian kit back on and to be finally playing games and be away from home,” said Richardson, who like Hughes has been in exciting touch during the Australian winter and is looking to add to the one ODI he played in Adelaide in 2013.
“I think a lot of the blokes were getting a bit of cabin fever sitting at home with their loved ones.
“It will be similar conditions to Australia I guess, with the sun out and good for batting.
“I don’t expect much grass (on the pitch) in these conditions.
“Towards the end of the tournament it will probably get a bit slow just because of the amount of cricket there will be on the (centre) square.
“It will probably be a nice cricket wicket and from there just get a little bit lower and slower each game.”
Richardson, who will be vying for new-ball honours with fellow quicks Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, said that while South Africa loomed as the tournament’s obvious challenge, the home team had shown some spirited signs in their Test and ODI battles with the Proteas in recent weeks.
“(South Africa) are obviously a big rival of Australia’s (and) from those games they played against Zimbabwe they’ve looked really good,” Richardson said.
“They’ve rested a couple of their quicks (Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel from the one-dayers against Zimbabwe) but they’ve still managed to get the job done.
“They’be looking to win the series as well because it’s a springboard towards the World Cup and we play them in Australia in November.
“We’ve also seen the replays of the games (Zimbabwe) played against South Africa and they’ve been really competitive but probably just missed winning those key moments.
“They (Zimbabwe) have got a few really good class internationals in the middle-order that are really experienced, and we’re going to have to play well to beat them and in their home conditions as well.
“So there’s plenty at stake in this series and hopefully we can get the job done and get some momentum from that.”
Richardson also revealed the reason why he arrived for the team’s departure flight to Harare this week clad in an official players’ suit, the pants of which finished several inches above the tall fast bowler’s ankles.
With his hillbilly beard and village yokel outfit, Richardson resembled a character from a pantomime comedy rather than a feared opening bowler.
But he told cricket.com.au he has taken matters into his own hands in order to deal once and for all with the unfortunate costuming shortfall that led to Clarke posting a memorable image on his Twitter feed.
“It was the morning of travel in Sydney so not much could be done,” Richardson said.
“I tried them on and they were above where my socks started, so there was a little bit of skin showing.
“I managed to get a knife out and cut the hemming and made them a little bit longer.
“I won’t name the tailor but (I’m) not very happy with the way the trousers turned out.
“I threw them in the bin last night so I don’t think they’ll be showing up any time soon.
“I might have to source another pair of trousers here in Harare.”