* Clarke ticking all the boxes
* Deadline of Feb. 21 still exists (Adds byline, details, quotes)
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Clarke will miss the World Cup opener against England on Saturday and still has fitness tests to pass to meet his deadline to be ready for the second group match against Bangladesh, coach Darren Lehmann said.
On the comeback trail from hamstring surgery, Clarke had an encouraging return in Australia’s final World Cup warmup match against United Arab Emirates in Melbourne on Wednesday, scoring a game-high 64 and running between the wickets without any apparent discomfort.
”He’s pulled up really well and no, he’s not playing,“ Lehmann told reporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday. ”Really happy with his progress but we’re going to stick to the plan that he’ll play against Bangladesh.
”The way he batted, ran, fielded, bowled (on Wednesday), ticked all the boxes.
”He’s still ticking those (boxes) off along the way. He’s got a few tests today and he’ll pass those no dramas.
“Then it’s making sure he gets into the fielding side of it next week and just ticks that off and away we go.”
The selectors’ deadline to have Clarke, a proven World Cup performer, prove his fitness by the Bangladesh match on Feb. 21 or miss out on playing the tournament on home soil has been seen as draconian by some pundits.
Local media have fanned the flames by alleging a rift exists between Clarke, selectors and some of his team mates over his injury problems and ability to lead the side in the long-term.
Vice captain George Bailey is expected to lead against England at the MCG, though local media have called for batsman Steven Smith, who led the team during Clarke’s absence in the India test series, to take the reins.
Australia’s other injury worry has been all-rounder James Faulkner, an accomplished batsman and seamer who has struggled with a side strain and is also set to miss the England match.
Faulkner ran some laps of the MCG at training on Thursday and Lehmann said he was batting without any trouble.
“That’s a good sign for us. Again we’re just dictated by the medical team at the moment,” he added.
“Hopefully he’ll resume bowling very shortly so we’ll wait and see.”
Lehmann said selectors would consider picking Faulkner on his batting merits alone, but said he hoped Clarke would be able to bowl as well as bat.
”We do (want him to bowl). Obviously being a left-armer taking the ball away is another advantage for him.
“He’ll bowl at the right time as he normally does. He’s a very astute leader in that regard.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury