A new front in the Ashes phoney war opened in Cardiff with Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, declaring that winning the Champions Trophy would provide the ideal warm-up for the summer's main event. At the same time he was insisting that his side were focused only on the here and now of the one-day tournament rather than a Test series that begins six weeks down the line.
The Australians are based in Cardiff for their warm-up games before they open the tournament proper a week on Saturday against England. Facing the media for the first time since the one-day squad arrived in this country on Monday, Clarke flat batted a succession of Ashes questions with a solidity Jonathan Trott would have admired; albeit doing so in a noticeably more relaxed fashion compared to the knots in which England appear to be becoming tied.
"If we win the Champions Trophy that will be more than enough, that will be the best preparation possible," said Clarke when questioned about their limited first-class build-up to the Ashes, which opens at Trent Bridge on 10 July. "My focus is having success in this tournament, I'm not too concerned about the Ashes right now."
The opening group game at Edgbaston against England – the group also includes New Zealand and Sri Lanka – will be the first of six one-day internationals (providing the two do not meet in the Champions Trophy final) and five Tests between Clarke's and Alastair Cook's sides before both teams head Down Under to do it all over again this winter.
"The England game is very because it is the first game of the tournament for us," said Clarke. "I don't think we as a team are focused on the Ashes at all at this stage. No doubt there is a lot of build-up in regards to the media and the public back home and I'm sure it is the same here in England.
"I certainly have no dramas in talking about it and hearing about the Ashes because it's a fantastic series that every Australian cricketer looks forward to, but in regards to this tournament, as a team I don't think we are focused on stamping our mark against England.
"We might be focused on stamping our mark against England for the rest of this tournament but that's got nothing to do with the Ashes."
Including Clarke, seven of the Champions Trophy squad will remain in England for the Ashes. With his Test hat on, the skipper had set aside his final day before leaving home in Australia to watch England's opening day of the Second Test against New Zealand only for the weather to put paid to that plan.
"I am sure England will take a lot of confidence out of having more success but that is not a surprise to me. They are a very good team, especially in their own back yard and they are going to be tough to beat," said Clarke. "If we can play some good cricket in the Champions Trophy and run with some good momentum we'll wait and see."
Today though it was the one-day captain's hat that was fixed firmly in place. "I don't see it as a curtain raiser," he insisted of the Champions Trophy, a tournament Australia have won the last two episodes of. "I see it as the second biggest one-day tournament in the world. As a one-day team this is a huge series for us.
"We want to have success – that's got nothing to do with the Ashes. In regard to the Australian team, this one-day team, this is a huge tournament for us and we are very focused on that."
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