With Michael's Clarke particpation in the Ashes opener at the Gabba beginning on Nov 25th, in doubt, Australian selectors have called up New South Whales batsman Usman Khawaja. During Monday's training session, Clarke did nothing more than walk a few laps around the Gabba ground, but is due to bat in Tuesday's session to prove his fitness.
Clarke says he is confident of recovering from his niggling back injury in a couple of days. "I'm still a little bit stiff and sore, hence me not training today," Clarke said. "Our plan was for me to have a bat tomorrow and then another good hit on Wednesday. The battle is to get as close to a hundred per cent as possible for Thursday. I'm pretty confident that I'll be right."
Clarke is one of the few of the hosts' batsmen to perform well so far this summer and his record in Ashes Tests is impressive. He has notched up an average of 55 in 15 matches against England and his side needs him to provide stability to the middle-order that has got quite brittle of late.
"He's been in this situation a few times the last couple of years," said Australia captain Ricky Ponting. "He's had niggles but been able to come back most times. Alex (Kountouris, the team physio-therapist) has made it clear he wants him to bat tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday. If he doesn't bat tomorrow it'd be hard for him to be considered for the game, but we will definitely give him as long as possible."
"I've played 64 Test matches with it now, I haven't missed a Test, touch wood," Clarke said. "It's not so much batting, it's more waking up daily. Some days are better than others. I get that feeling when you get out of bed."
The back disc injury, which has cropped up frequently for Clarke throughout his career, re-emerged during his century for New South Wales. He batted again in the second innings, scoring an unbeaten 39 to save the game, but hasn't been able to get back in the swing of things.
Clarke was last grounded by the injury in 2009, when it made him a bench-warmer for the one-day series against India, and it also bothered him during his first Ashes tour. "I remember in 2005, it happened the first ball fielding at Old Trafford," he said. "I didn't field for the rest of the Test but I batted in the two innings. I've played international cricket with discomfort because of my back, but it hasn't ruled me out of a Test match as of yet."
Legspinning allrounder Steven Smith, has made it to the squad, but the selectors are looking at Khawaja as specialist batting cover. Khawaja, who will join the squad in Brisbane on Monday evening, travelled to England for the Pakistan series in July and was a strong contender to make the trimmed version of the squad until his double failure in Australia A's match against England in Hobart a few days ago.