Michael Clarke's back and suddenly Aussies are enjoying life

With a new coach and a fit captain the tourists are looking forward to the Ashes at long last

For the first time in an age, Australia must have felt the world had stopped conspiring against them. Perhaps arriving in the bucolic county town of Taunton has that effect, perhaps it was a turning point.

Apart from that, the declaration by their captain, Michael Clarke, of his fitness to play in the first match of their Ashes tour against Somerset will have made them slightly more chipper. Clarke's chronic back condition, which kept him out of the entire Champions Trophy campaign in the past fortnight, has at last responded to the intensive treatment he has been receiving.

Given the recurrent nature of the complaint there is no certainty yet that he will be there for the first Test against England at Trent Bridge, which starts a fortnight today, but it is a significant step in that direction. After the series of setbacks since their arrival in England, which culminated in the sacking of their coach Mickey Arthur on Monday, it was exactly what the squad needed to hear.

Brad Haddin, the vice-captain, said after the Test squad's first practice under Darren Lehmann, the newly installed coach: "It's great news. It's the first game on tour and obviously the Australia captain is pretty excited to play. He is in a good spot. He took a good catch and had a bit of a hit. I didn't watch much because I was in the next net but all in all that is the level we went with and we are ready to go."

Clarke and Lehmann may prove to be the dream team that Australia have been seeking. Without the former, it is virtually certain that their Ashes campaign is doomed to failure. Since officially assuming the captaincy in September 2011 he has scored almost 20 per cent of the side's runs.

He has been constantly bullish about his back with the team in such a beleaguered state in the past month. There seems now to be a determination to put everything behind them and to ensure that Arthur's departure represents a new beginning.

Haddin said: "It's not hard to have a smile on your face today, it's the first day of an Ashes campaign. It was significant because it was the first training session of an Ashes tour. This is the most exciting tour you could possibly be on. The whole theatre about an Ashes campaign is second to none so you don't need any more motivation to go out and train on day one."

Australia had no compunction about naming the players who will start against Somerset in the four-day match and Haddin reeled off the names. There is no place for the veteran batsman Chris Rogers, who has been recalled to the Ashes squad after playing a solitary Test five years ago. But little should be read into that.

Rogers has played a lot of cricket in English conditions for Middlesex already this season and is in supreme form. It is impossible to think that Australia will ignore his craft and experience at this late stage and those lining up in Taunton, such as Usman Khawaja and Phil Hughes know they are batting for a place.

There may be an opener's place up for grabs alongside Ed Cowan, with David Warner banned until the Test starts. The selectors must be tempted to return Shane Watson to the top of the order, where he has had his greatest Test success.

Beyond the team, there seems to be a definite closing of ranks and an urgency not to add to the sense of haplessness that has engulfed them. They failed to win any of their three matches in the Champions Trophy, in which they were hammered by England, and they were then subject to harsh criticism after their opening batsman punched the England batsman, Joe Root, in a Birmingham bar.

When Warner was suspended, the dressing room culture was derided and it fell just short of questions being asked in the House back at home. Ultimately, Arthur as coach paid the price with his job. Lehmann is clearly a popular choice.

Mike Hussey, recently retired from international cricket, did not try to conceal the fact that things went wrong when he was playing. But he said from his home in Perth that they were dealt with quietly.

"I thought the culture in the team was pretty good. I enjoyed it. It was always a tough ask for Michael to take over from someone like Ricky Ponting. I think he has done a great job and I think we have got the guy s there if we concentrate on what's really important.

"There are always little issues and things along the way – no question – but we just tried to deal with them as quickly and precisely as we possibly could. Certainly there were always things that went wrong or players that stepped out of line but they were always dealt with quickly and in house."

Although Clarke, who has asked to be relieved of his selection duties, might seem under pressure, there is a growing wave of support for him. Hussey rebuffed rumours of a split dressing room and there is an obvious desire to ensure the turbulence is stemmed for good.

"I think he has got a great cricket brain and is very sound," Hussey said. "There was always method to what he was trying to do, often seeing things that were happening before other people could. He had a very clear path in his mind of where he wanted to take the team and that is the sign of a good leader." His country have never needed Clarke more.

Only with Sky Sports can you watch 116 live Barclays Premier League matches, the Lions tour, the Ashes and Formula 1 in HD and on mobile and tablet devices

Ashes warm-up: Australians' team

Australia XI to face Somerset in Taunton:

Age/Caps

Ed Cowan 31/17

Shane Watson 32/41

Usman Khawaja 26/6

Phillip Hughes 24/24

Michael Clarke (captain) 32/92

Brad Haddin 35/44

James Faulkner 23/0

Peter Siddle 28/41

Nathan Lyon 25/22

James Pattinson 23/10

Mitchell Starc 23/9

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness