Australia's captains still squabbling

Fallout over criticism of Michael Clarke in Ricky Ponting's book continues as Mark Taylor wades into row

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The Independent Online

It used to be a very English trait for the build-up to an Ashes series to be marred by tales of infighting. Yet, after their summer of discontent, Australia's cricketers have once again taken up the mantle as a press conference to mark Michael Clarke's return to action following his back injury was dominated by the ongoing spat with the man he replaced as captain, Ricky Ponting.

After concerns over Clarke's performance as vice-captain as well as his former relationship with model Lara Bingle were highlighted in Ponting's autobiography At the Close of Play when it was published earlier this month, Clarke at first attempted to play down the controversy before suggesting that it was up to his former mentor to make amends. "I've said what I had to say on that issue," Clarke said. "Ricky has my number and we've spoken for the last 15 years so I don't think anything will change."

Ponting has been unrepentant about the contents of his autobiography as he tours Australia to promote it but another former captain, Mark Taylor, who is now a Cricket Australia director, believes he overstepped the line in criticising a former team-mate.

"The disappointing thing for me was that this wasn't left in the change room and wasn't sorted out in the change room,'' Taylor said. "I reckon Michael Clarke probably could have done more to appease the situation and, from all I've seen and heard and read in recent times, there is no doubt that Ricky Ponting could have done more as well."

Either way, England will not mind all the attention being heaped on their opponents as they seek a historic fourth successive Ashes victory.

While Clarke prepares to play for New South Wales in a Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania, his opposite number Alastair Cook sat out England's latest training session in Perth with a sore back, along with Stuart Broad. But Ian Bell dismissed fears that Cook could be in danger of missing the first Test in Brisbane, which starts on 21 November.

"I'm sure he'll be fine," Bell said. "He's had the odd little niggle with the back, which I suppose we all have certain areas we have to keep working on. Obviously, a long flight isn't always easy. I'm sure he'll be right in the next week or so."

Clarke's back has been playing up since the tour of India in March and his return two weeks ahead of schedule could be vital for his side's chances of regaining the urn for the first time since the 5-0 victory in 2006-07.

Asked if England deserved to enter the series as favourites following their 3-0 series victory on home turf in the summer, he said: "If you decide they're favourites, yeah. For us it's about making sure we're as well prepared as we can be and we play our best cricket, and I'm confident if we do those two things we can win the series."