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

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible