As Australians arrived at Auckland today to play co-hosts New Zealand 5 days later, in one of the most anticipated matches of the ICC World Cup , the fitness issues of two key players remains a major source of concern for the team.

One of the two players is none other than Australian skipper Micheal Clarke. Clarke, whose last international match was the first test against India in Adelaide, was supposed to play the game against Bangladesh in Gabba, Brisbane on February 21st, which was called off due to rain. Fans have been waiting with abated breaths for him to take the field and bat with all his skills. Not to mention that the experience which Clarke brings to the table is priceless for the Australian Team.

Micheal Clarke, who has had a chronic back problem overs the years, had sustained a hamstring injury while fielding in the Adelaide Test and went off the field on the 5th day. The injury was not a minor one and Clarke had his doubts  about playing again. But in a bid to represent his country at the World Cup, he worked on his fitness and also played the warm up game against UAE where he scored 64 runs, bowled 2 overs and fielded throughout the innings. However, the team management  decided not to risk his comeback and play him against Bangladesh.

Clarke has played only 2 out of the 18 possible ODIs for Australia and will now be itching to take the field against New Zealand and dismiss all sorts of doubts regarding his fitness.

On the other hand, James Faulkner, Australia’s bowling all rounder who got injured in the Tri-Series final against England, still hasn’t fully recovered from the side injury sustained. Faulkner has been seen bowling and batting in the nets but at a reduced pace and a short run up. In all likelihood, he seems to be missing out on the game versus New Zealand on Saturday, which may potentially decide the topper of the group.

Losing James Faulkner will be a bigger blow to Australia than losing Micheal Clarke. Australia have been accustomed to playing under the leadership of the smiling assassin George Bailey, and with Watson, Smith, Maxwell and Haddin in the middle order, Australia won’t miss Clarke that much. But James Faulkner at no.8 in the batting order is an asset which every captain yearns for.

Faulkner at no. 8 has been consistently finishing off games for Australia and has two centuries to his name. In the very last ODI he played, he smashed 50 off 24 balls to help Australia 280 against England in the tri-series final at WACA, Perth.

Now the question arises who do you replace James Faulkner with?

Australia may find a better bowler than Faulkner at no.8, but none among the current crop can match up to his batting. This may lead to a difference of 15-20 runs which may turn out to be very crucial in a knockout match.

Death bowling, which is Faulkner’s speciality, would suffer if he were to be replaced by another all rounder, say Mitchell Marsh or Moises Henriques. Also, with Faulkner out, the pressure to deliver with the ball increases on Watson, who has also been struggling at No. 3 for Australia. Certainly not an ideal scenario for Australia.

While the talk maybe on Clarke returning to lead the Aussie ship for the World Cup, but in hindsight James Faulkner’s fitness might just prove to be more crucial than Clarke’s and the Australian team management should hope that Faulkner is fit and raring to go once the knockout stages arrive.

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