Nottingham, United Kingdom: Almost before he could be asked the question, Michael Clarke underscored the fact that his team came into the Ashes as the underdogs. On the one hand, this was an admission of how the teams stacked up, man for man, but on the other, it also served to take any pressure off his own team and heap it onto England's plate.
"It's very special to play in England as an Australian Test cricketer. The tag of favourites doesn't have any impact on either team," said Clarke. "I've said for a while we come here as underdogs - that hasn't affected our preparation and it won't affect our performance. We know it will be a tough series but the boys are up for it."
Clarke also suggested that while the two teams would come hard at each other, he expected the series to be played in the right spirit, irrespective of the results. "Every time I've played England it's been tough cricket, in any form. The rivalry is something you look forward to - always competitive but both teams always have ultimate respect off field," said Clarke. "I'm confident this series will be no different. On field it will be hard-fought but off the field there will be that friendship as well."
Given the fact that the Australian team saw themselves as underdogs, Clarke said it would be a massive achievement if his team could pull off a win in the series. "It would be a great achievement, reward for the hard work we've put in. All I can ask is that everyone prepares as well as they can and this has happened," said Clarke. "It's now about playing with freedom, backing your own ability. I couldn't ask for more from players on this tour, and it's now about reaping the rewards of that work. All the talking is done, preparations finished. The guys will now do what they need to in order to prepare mentally. Now it's not what you say but what you do."
The good news for Australia was that the degenerative back condition that has dogged Clarke since he was a teenager was just about under control, allowing him to be at his physical best come the start of the Test series. "I'm 100 per cent fit. It was nice to play tour games and get practice under the belt. I have to deal with my back issues every day of my life," said Clarke. "This series is no different but it's nice to be back on field with the boys and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. It's about time I scored some more runs for Australia and led from the front."