Australia captain Michael Clarke has lost his race to be fit for tomorrow’s World Cup opener against England.
Coach Darren Lehmann confirmed that Clarke would not play at the MCG despite the 33-year-old’s quicker than expected recovery from hamstring surgery.
Clarke pulled on an Australia shirt for the first time in two months on Wednesday night, hitting 64 and bowling two overs of spin, as his side finalised their World Cup preparations with a 188-run win over United Arab Emirates.
That sparked speculation Clarke could be set for an early return against England, after Cricket Australia had initially set him a deadline of proving his fitness by the February 21 match against Bangladesh.
But Lehmann confirmed the plan remained for Clarke to return against the Tigers.
“No, he’s not playing Saturday,” Lehmann said.
“I’m happy with the way he pulled up, really happy with his progress and we’re going to stick to the plan. He’ll play against Bangladesh.”
Lehmann said Clarke’s hit-out against the UAE could not have gone better, but that he and the medical staff were not willing to take any risks over his comeback.
“I’m really happy with the way it has gone,” Lehmann added.
“The way he batted, ran, fielded, bowled – he ticked all the boxes.
“Now it’s about a good solid week and get ready for Bangladesh.”
Clarke has worked tirelessly to get himself back to fitness after suffering the injury during the first Test against India in early December.
Lehmann hinted that Clarke had been slightly disappointed to be kept in cotton wool for what looms as one of the biggest matches of the tournament.
“We’ve just had a chat. He’s respectful of what we’re trying to do to get him right,” he said.
“He’s a quality player and a quality leader and while we would have loved to have him available for this game we’re making sure he’s 100 per cent ready to go for Bangladesh.”
While Clarke will miss the game his opposite number, Eoin Morgan, enters it with concerns over his form after he was dismissed for a third duck in four innings in England’s final warm-up match against Pakistan.
Since hitting a century against Australia in the tri-series opener, Morgan has got out four times in 18 balls during a miserable return of 0, 2, 0, 0.
“I’d like him to continue that run against us on Saturday, but he’s a fine player,” Lehmann said.
“We’ll come up with our plans as we did in the tri-series; they seemed to be working.”
Morgan said: “I’m not really that concerned,” he said.
“I went through a bit of a bad patch before Christmas and I feel, since I started with the Sydney Thunder at the Big Bash, I’ve started to turn things around. I’ve had a couple of low scores but I’ll look to cash in on Saturday if I manage to get past 10-20 balls.”
He takes comfort in the fact it was only at the start of the tour that he defiantly hit a century against Australia at the SCG.
“I think it is four or five games since I scored a hundred so I don’t have to look that far back to actually reconnect with what works well for me,” he said.
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