Cricket: Tests come first, says Clarke

Australia Test captain Michael Clarke has dismissed the prospect of players being rested during the ongoing series against South Africa.

George Bailey celebrates with Michael Clarke of Australia after game five

This is with a view to the fast-approaching Twenty20 World Cup.

Clarke, who does not play T20 international cricket, specifically made it clear he had no intention of allowing Shane Watson to sit out matches once he recovers from a calf problem that looks set to rule him out of the second Test starting on Thursday.

While Watson could prove a match-winner for Australia during the tournament in Bangladesh, it is Clarke's belief that Test cricket should be seen as the pre-eminent format.

And with Australia seeking to re-establish themselves as the world's leading exponents of the five-day game, chipping away at South Africa's big lead in the ICC rankings, Clarke wants everyone pulling in his direction.

Australia inflicted a thumping 281-run win in Centurion to begin the Test series, and have moved on to Port Elizabeth seeking to clinch a series victory.

Speaking ahead of the match, Clarke frowned on the suggestions Australia could ease Watson through this tour and prioritise the chance of him playing in the team's pursuit of limited-overs silverware next month and in April.

"No chance," he said. "Not while I'm captain of this team. There's no greater priority than playing a Test match for your country.

"The Twenty20 World Cup is a major tournament and is important, and I know all the Twenty20 boys will be keen to have success over there, but right now we're playing a Test series - that's our focus.

"As soon as Watto is fit and available I know he'll want to be back out on the park.

"I don't know if you guys (media) watched him in the nets but he's creaming them at the moment.

"He's a huge player for us, so the sooner we can have Watto back I think the better for this team."

While Watson can bat in practice, his movement in the field would be impaired and he has been unable to bowl, thus making his selection impractical.

Australia may miss his bowling, but in resurgent Mitchell Johnson they have a paceman at his peak.

He took 12 wickets in a destructive first Test performance, and when asked about how the home side might have been mentally affected by that display on Wednesday, Clarke said: "We're about to find out. I think South Africa are a wonderful team with a lot of experience."

Clarke is wary of a South African backlash, after their humiliation in the opening Test of the three-match series on what he has called "a nasty wicket".

Despite there being plenty of green on the wicket ahead of the Test, Clarke expects the St George's Park pitch to look distinctly different come the first morning.

South Africa must decide who replaces all-rounder Ryan McLaren, a victim of Johnson's intimidating pace in the first Test when a short ball from the Australia quick cracked him on the side of the head.

Wayne Parnell would be a like-for-like substitute for McLaren, who has concussion, however Clarke suspects Dean Elgar will get the nod and come in as an extra batsman.

"I think he's a very good player," Clarke said. "He's got all the shots. "We've seen footage of him playing and know his strengths and weaknesses."

Although they have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years South Africa have not always enjoyed flying starts to series, and captain Graeme Smith is hoping those previous experiences will stand his side in good stead this time around.

"It's difficult to say why we have started so slowly in series, maybe we don't like to throw the first punch," he said.

"I think it's important to have the ability to respond and to know how to respond, experience plays a big role. The guys have a lot of reference points in terms of confidence and performances to fall back on."


He added: "We got straight back into our work and have had some good discussions.

"I'm hoping that the first hit-out will allow us to get to our best, if anything I feel that we have lacked a little bit of real competitive cricket coming into the series. That was shown in the first Test match where we were certainly outplayed. We have to get ourselves back into this series over the next five days and I'm hoping we will be better for it."

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