Sydney: Australian captain Michael Clarke on Saturday rejected speculation about a rift with teammates as he battles for fitness ahead of the World Cup. Speaking as he returned to the field for a grade cricket match, Clarke said the six-and-a-half weeks he had spent recuperating from hamstring surgery had not driven a wedge between him and the squad.
"It certainly hasn't been for me, it seems like it might have been for a few other people and I'm not talking about my teammates or the Cricket Australia staff," said Clarke.
Clarke was forced to bow out after the first Test against India in December with the serious hamstring injury, with Steve Smith filling in as captain for the three remaining Tests. Reports have suggested that the team have taken to Smith's style, while speculation that Clarke wants to have a strong say in when he is ready to return to the team has caused friction with Cricket Australia.
"I'm not going to get into it," Clarke told reporters. "It seems like some people in particular are going to write what they want to write. "I'm really happy and comfortable with my relationship with Cricket Australia firstly, certainly with my teammates. "It's water off a duck's back for me, I've copped it my whole career. It's another day, another newspaper sold. I don't really care."
Cricket Australia has given Clarke until Australia's second pool match against Bangladesh on February 21 to prove his fitness for the World Cup. He batted for almost three hours for his Western Suburbs team Saturday, scoring 51 from 128 balls, including two fours and a six, and said medical staff considered his recovery was ahead of schedule. "But there's still a long way to go before I can walk out in an international and represent Australia," he said.
"It's nice to be in a position where the Australian medical staff can allow me to come back and play for my grade club, but it's one day at a time," the 33-year-old added. "My goal is to get fit as soon as I can and then obviously there's a time frame set by Cricket Australia and the selectors that I certainly understand and respect."
Opener David Warner also put his support behind Clarke, saying suggestions that some Test players would rather retain Smith as captain once Clarke returned were "bizarre". "Smitty (Smith) will be a good leader... but he's got a lot to learn and he knows that," Warner told Sydney's The Daily Telegraph. "I still feel Michael has a lot to offer as a captain. His leadership over the last three years put us in a great position."