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Australian batting form gives Ashes campaign a lift

Michael Clarke will miss the final round of Sheffield Shield games before the first Test in Brisbane but knows the bulk of his batting line-up is fit and in form in the countdown to the Ashes.

While England battles the elements and injury in its quest to bed down key spots in its batting order, Australia's top seven all but pick themselves after a strong start to the summer.

Chris Rogers and Steve Smith have both made centuries, so too David Warner, who is poised to remain as Test opener after backing up his excellent form in the Ryobi Cup with scores of 104 and 51 not out last week for NSW against the Bushrangers in Melbourne. Clarke fell 12 runs short of a ton in his first shield innings of the summer, while George Bailey, tipped to claim a batting slot, spent a decent time at the crease to make 34 and 41 after his his red-hot one-day international form in India.

The injured Shane Watson is the only frontline Australian batsman yet to face a red ball this season, although he is not short of match practice after playing in India.

Although Watson received an encouraging report on his fitness at the weekend, selectors may yet name a 13-man squad on Tuesday. Tasmanian Alex Doolan, averaging 73 in the first-class arena this season, is the favourite to be placed on standby.

The strong form of Australia's best batsmen should allay some fears over the country's batting woes, which prompted a batting forum last month.


It's also a marked improvement on Australia's preparations for the last home Ashes series three years ago, which former captain Ricky Ponting branded a ''shemozzle'' in his autobiography.

The Australian batsmen's promising early season form bodes well in their pursuit of an even output, which retired star Michael Hussey believes is a key ingredient to reclaiming the urn.

''To beat this England team, who are very, very good, you need contributions from everyone,'' Hussey said. ''You just can't rely on Michael Clarke or Shane Watson to score the bulk of the runs.''

Hussey was impressed by what he has seen recently from Smith, who earned a recall to the baggy green this year in India and made his maiden Test ton during this year's Ashes series in England.

''He's certainly playing with a lot of confidence,'' Hussey said.

''He went through a tough couple of years after getting a taste of it. He appears to have gone away and worked very hard on his game.

''Having him feeling confident and coming into the series playing well and in form with runs under his belt is very, very important.''

Cricket Australia has pulled Clarke from the final round of shield games before the Ashes with the view of managing the back problems that have troubled him throughout his career.

''We're very pleased with Michael's preparation ahead of the first Test,'' said national coach Darren Lehmann.

''The plan for his Ashes build-up was to play two Sheffield Shield matches, which he has done successfully.

''He has spent valuable time in the middle batting and fielding. Importantly, his back has coped well in both matches, but we will continue to take a sensible and cautious approach to managing him.''