Michael Clarke © Getty Images
Michael Clarke’s place as captain could be taken by George Bailey if he remains unfit © Getty Images

By Tristan Holme

Harare: Aug 24, 2014

Australia will make a late decision on captain Michael Clarke’s fitness for Monday’s triangular series opener against Zimbabwe at Harare Sports Club. Clarke tweaked his left hamstring during Australia’s first training session on Friday, but jogged several laps on Saturday to lend hope that he may recover in time.

However with a higher-profile game against South Africa to follow on Wednesday, it is possible that Clarke will be left out of the Zimbabwe clash as a precaution, in which case George Bailey would lead Australia. “He’s better than he was on Friday, so he’s probably 50-50,” coach Darren Lehmann said after training on Saturday. “He’s desperate to play and we’re obviously desperate for our captain to play, so hopefully he’ll get through Sunday’s session and we’ll make a decision from there. We’ve got enough depth in our squad to chop and change if we need to, so we’ll just put the best side we possibly can out to win the game.”

Should Clarke be left out on Monday, then top-order batsman Phillip Hughes could take his place after coming into the squad following an injury to Shane Watson. Although Lehmann was yet to identify his preferred bowling attack for the game, he confirmed that it would be led by left-arm fast bowlers Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc.

“They swing the ball and one is very fast and the other one is fast, so they’re definitely going to play,” Lehmann said. “Otherwise we’ve got some pretty good young kids as well, so it’s going to be a good attack.”

After using 16 players during a three-match ODI series against South Africa in Bulawayo this week, Zimbabwe coach Stephen Mangongo believes he will be better placed to field a side that can be competitive. Zimbabwe’s selections at times appeared haphazard and reactionary, with the decision to drop leading batsman Brendan Taylor for the third game the most controversial, but Mangongo defended the home side’s decisions in the 3-0 series defeat.

“We are quite close to knowing what our team will be like,” he said. “It was very important for us to get a look at a number of players. We used the series to check on them, and by the tri-series we will have a pretty settled batting line-up.”

Although Zimbabwe’s spinners acquitted themselves admirably against South Africa, young seamers Neville Madziva and Luke Jongwe picked up just one wicket between them. However with the more experienced Tendai Chatara and Donald Tiripano expected to return to the squad after they were rested for the series against South Africa, the hosts will hope to make greater inroads up front.