- The Ashes 2013
Clarke confident over Ashes fitness
As he delivered a series of reassurances that a degenerative back condition would not hobble his forthcoming Ashes campaign, Australia's captain Michael Clarke issued a stern reminder that the tourists' promising pace battery would be rendered useless without sufficient runs to defend.
The announcement of an Australian Ashes squad stocked to the hilt with pace bowlers of quality, plus the scheduling of the first two Tests at the seam and swing friendly surfaces of Trent Bridge and Lord's, has contributed a sense of quiet optimism to many Antipodean observers of the game.
Clarke, though, was frank in reminding his batsmen that they would have to find ways of constructing decent tallies if that bowling strength is to become meaningful. It was a lesson demonstrated during the ODI series between the two countries in England last year, when Australia's bowlers looked tame by comparison with their English counterparts - despite helpful conditions - when given few runs to defend.
"We've got a good attack, there's no doubt about it. The squad of quicks we have is a really good combination. They gel well together, they're all a little bit different," Clarke said. "But there's the other side. As batters we've got to put runs on the board, it's no good giving our attack 150 runs to bowl at. So as batters we have a huge responsibility and a big job to make sure we're getting 350, getting 400 and putting those runs on the board, and I'm very confident if we can select the best attack we can have some success over there."
Clarke also disputed the possibility of England winning the series on dry, turning pitches prepared in the wake of Australia's 4-0 rout by India in February and March, instead noting that the overhead conditions had always been a more critical factor in how batsmen and bowlers fared than the surfaces themselves.
"I think conditions more in the air play a bigger part in England than what you see on the surface. If the sun's out generally the wickets in England are very good for batting. If it's overcast, it doesn't matter how dry the wicket is, you get a lot of swing and some seam in the UK. I don't think you can plan too much over there. I think England will use their strengths in their conditions. We'll be able to adapt, we've got Nathan Lyon, hopefully I can bowl a few part-timers as well. We'll find a way."
As part of his extended rehabilitation from the back and hamstring injuries that ruled him unfit for a Test match for the first time since his debut in 2004, Clarke recently completed a two-week training camp in the southern highlands of New South Wales with his trainer Duncan Kerr. Clarke said the recipe for his return to full fitness had not been any dramatic change in his regimen, but rather a tightening of its monitoring by the national team physio Alex Kountouris and others.
"I've used the experts around me," Clarke said. "Alex Kountouris, the Australian physio, has been fantastic and he's been monitoring my program. In regards to my back it's the daily maintenance I do … I've had another two-week boot camp with Duncan Kerr, we went away to my property there and trained really hard.
"So my preparation in regards to last year has been very similar, but it's been monitored extra closely by the support staff to make sure I'm getting the strength I need, and to make sure I'm well prepared to play the whole 12 months.
"I'm confident it'll be no different to what it has been through my career. I've managed to play 90-odd Test matches and only miss one through my career. That's a big part of why preparation is so important for me, I need to make sure I'm fit, need to make sure I'm not carrying too much weight, I need to make sure I'm putting in the work to be fit in eight or 12 months' time."
Clarke has also been a regular visitor to the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane, where those Ashes squad members not waylaid by the IPL or already in England have trained on well-grassed pitches and used the Dukes ball that will be a key player in the series to come.
"It's more just getting used to facing a different ball to a Kookaburra," Clarke said. "With your bowling action hanging on to the ball, catching and fielding as well, just because the ball is a little bit different to what we're used to in Australia.
"We're disappointed with our most recent results in India, we know that's unacceptable as an Australian cricket team, and we've been working hard to try to turn that around. All I can ask for from the boys is to continue to prepare as well as we can, and give it a red hot crack. We know we're playing against a very good team in their own back yard. Test cricket in my eyes will always be the pinnacle, and playing against England in England is as big as it gets."
Clarke was speaking in Sydney, where Cricket Australia announced the upgrade of their longtime sponsor Commonwealth Bank to become the major partner of the Test team and home Test series, following their previous commercial support of ODIs and continued backing of the Southern Stars women's team and grassroots cricket over 26 years.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here