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.
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Ashes warm-up: Australians' team
Australia XI to face Somerset in Taunton:
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
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