London: Australia captain Michael Clarke has insisted the side will put their off-field troubles behind them and be "100 per cent ready for the Ashes" come next month's first Test against England. The latest in a recent line of high-profile disciplinary problems saw opener David Warner suspended Thursday by Cricket Australia until the start of the first Test in Nottingham on July 10 after punching England batsman Joe Root in a Birmingham bar.
Warner's assault took place in the early hours of Sunday morning, not long after England had beaten Australia by a convincing 48-run margin in their Champions Trophy opener at Edgbaston. The incident came just three weeks after Warner was fined 5,750 Australian dollars over an expletive-ridden Twitter tirade at two Australian cricket journalists.
In March, four Australia players were dropped by the team's South African coach Mickey Arthur for the third Test in India after failing to submit feedback requested by him. Australia lost the series 4-0. Taken together, these incidents have raised questions about the conduct of the players, Arthur's regime and Australia's ability to avoid a third successive Test series defeat against arch-rivals England -- something that last happened in the 1950s.
However, Clarke -- speaking alongside Warner at a London news conference on Thursday -- insisted Australia were not a team in free fall. "I think David knows how I feel about the culture of this Australian team and how important I feel the standards are in this Australian team," said Clarke. "We'll be 100 per cent ready for the Ashes there's no doubt about it." Clarke added: "There is no good time to be dealing with this but this is part of what you do as leadership in this team."
Prior to his suspension, the 26-year-old Warner was omitted from the Australia side that played in the no result match against New Zealand at Edgbaston on Wednesday -- although he carried the drinks as 12th man. That washout left Australia needing to beat Sri Lanka at The Oval on Monday to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions Trophy semi-finals. "It's disappointing to have two incidents in a matter of months. I'm here to apologise for my actions," said Warner.
"I've just got to move on and do everything I can to get picked for the first Test," added Warner, who has made three centuries and seven fifties in 19 Tests. However, given he will now miss the rest of Australia's participation in the Champions Trophy, and their two first-class warm-up matches ahead of the Ashes, his chances of playing in the first Test are now slim at best.
That may help Australia as, according to former England captain and opener Mike Atherton, writing in The Times on Thursday, their squad is "top heavy with opening batsmen -- Ed Cowan, Shane Watson, Warner and Chris Rogers -- all of whom have a question mark against their names".
But Australia great Shane Warne said there could be a wider benefit to the side than clarifying the choice of openers. "In a funny sort of way this could bring Australia together. I think it is a chance for them to gel together," Warne wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph. "After this incident England could be thinking to themselves Australia are there for the taking," the leg-spin legend added. "But if Australia regroup then they might get a surprise."
Warne said Australia were missing the influence of star batsman Clarke, yet to feature in the Champions Trophy while he undergoes treatment for a longstanding back injury that has raised fears about his Ashes fitness. Atherton agreed, saying: "The early part of any tour is vital for a captain to set out his stall, but Clarke has been absent... The team need their captain like never before."
He added: "Warner's recent behaviour fits into a pattern of general ill discipline that, allied to struggles on the field, give the appearance that Australia are in disarray. And now very short of time."