Windies, not Ashes, focus for Clarke

Don’t try telling Michael Clarke Australia’s tour of the Caribbean is a four-week beach holiday before the hard work of an Ashes campaign begins.

The Australian team, barring Indian Premier League-playing duo Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc, have begun training in Antigua ahead of their two-Test series against the West Indies.

The shortened tour is seen by many as a gentle reintroduction to red ball cricket for Clarke and his men after their World Cup success in March.

With an Ashes tour straight after, England’s current series against New Zealand could be must-watch for Clarke and his men, but the Australian captain says the old enemy is the last thing on his mind.

“The TV’s not working in my room so I’m not watching England,” Clarke said.

“It’s very simple for us.

“We want to beat West Indies in their own backyard, we know how tough opposition they’re going to be no matter what other people might say.”

Recent history suggests the theory that this tour is an Ashes speedbump isn’t too far-fetched.

The once-unbeatable Windies haven’t won a Test against Australia home or away since 2003, losing nine and drawing the other three of the 12 Tests since their last success.

They’ve also slipped to eighth on the world Test rankings with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below.

However, Clarke says writing off the Windies is a dangerous move based on their display against England earlier this year in a drawn three-Test series which included a three-day thumping in the final Test.

He says a bowling lineup featuring captain Jason Holder, Jerome Taylor, Shannon Gabriel and spinner Veerasammy Permaul just can’t be taken lightly.

“They know the conditions really well, with nothing to lose, we know we have to be at our best to beat them,” Clarke said.

“There’s a number of teams in world cricket that don’t get enough credit for the way they play in their own backyard and I think West Indies are one of those.

“They’ve got so much talent, and you continue to see it in all forms of the game, they produce superstars.”

The Australians come to the Caribbean with a couple of new faces of their own.

Afghanistan-born Victorian legspinner Fawad Ahmed will get his chance to push for a Test debut in a three-day practice match in Antigua next week against a young WICB President’s XI.

Veteran Adam Voges will also be keen to justify selectors opting to pick the in-form 35-year-old ahead of incumbent Joe Burns.

Clarke says the addition of Ahmed to his spin arsenal is exciting, especially with the Windies pitches likely to be dry and slow.

“I’m always excited to have spin in the squad,” he said.

“We’ve got some really good options with our 16 players to assess conditions and then the selectors will obviously make a call on what they think is right.

“Do we go with three quicks? Do we go with two spinners? That’s pretty important in this part of the world.”

AUSTRALIA v WEST INDIES – Test head-to-head record

Overall: Australia 54, West Indies 32, tied one, drawn 24

In West Indies: Australia 19, West Indies 14, drawn 15

Last time: Australia def West Indies by 75 runs in Roseau, Dominica in April 2012

* Australia have won nine of the past 12 Tests against the West Indies at home or away

* West Indies’ last Test win over Australia was in May 2003

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