Australia are heading towards next month's Ashes series with "not a great deal of confidence" according to their stand-in ODI captain, George Bailey.
Bailey, who has a reputation as a refreshingly candid cricketer, was speaking after the defeat by Sri Lanka that saw Australia eliminated from the ICC Champions Trophy with two defeats and a washout in Group A, all completed without the injured Michael Clarke.
"There is probably not a great deal of confidence there," Bailey said in a pre-Ashes statement of intent slightly lower down the scale of Australian bravado from Glenn McGrath's familiar 5-0 whitewash predictions. "But it's just a very different mindset, going from a one-day tournament to a Test series. The Ashes tends to bring out something special in both sides. Whatever can be written and said leading up into those games but until that first Test and the result of that first Test, I think that will dictate how the summer plays out."
If Bailey's words could be most favourably interpreted as a pre-Ashes rope-a-dope strategy, there was a hint of better news - just about - for Australia in his suggestion Clarke would indeed be fit for the first Ashes Test in three weeks' time.
"I would imagine he would," Bailey said after a defeat that ensured Sri Lanka progressed to the semi-finals, where they will face India on Thursday. England, meanwhile, will take on South Africa on Wednesday after this result ensured they finished as Group A winners. "If he could have got outside and got a bit more training under his belt in the last couple of days, if it had been a 50-over fixture in terms of us being able to play it as a 50-over fixture, I think he would have had a really good chance playing this game."
"I was only really captain again this morning when Pup was ruled out. There was a real chance that he was going to play. Circumstances, almost dictated that he didn't. I think if it had been a 50-over game, he might have had a better chance to play. But the up-in-the-air nature of how today was going to pan out probably played against him, as has the weather for the last couple of days, trying to get some really good training under his belt."
Australia will be keen to emphasise that Clarke's absence was less a sign of chronic issues with his long-standing lower back problem and more an indication of where their summer priorities lie. Steve Waugh may have scored 153 against England at the Oval with one functioning leg 12 years ago, but in this collapsible Australian top order the captain looks ever more indispensable with the first Ashes Test less than weeks away. The sight of Ricky Ponting watching at the Oval – looking almost alarmingly fit and currently averaging 98 in first-class cricket for Surrey – was a perhaps rather unwanted echo of riches past. As for their exit here, Bailey was emphatic about where things had begun to go wrong: "Losing to England by 45 runs. That hurt us. That was our major cock-up."
Separately Australia's chairman of selectors, John Inverarity, has hinted that the 31-year-old asylum-seeking Pakistan-born spinner Fawad Ahmed may be called up to this summer's Ashes squad after the fast-tracking of his passport application "It is likely that his passport will be through in time for him to be considered for the squad," Inverarity told Test Match Special. "We will just have to wait and see what happens. He is a very good leg-spin bowler."
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