Michael Clarke insists Zimbabwe not `token tour

AFP| Last Updated: Aug 20, 2014, 09:38 AM IST

Melbourne: Captain Michael Clarke on Wednesday insisted Australia`s visit to Zimbabwe was not a "token tour" or World Cup audition but was all about winning as players return to international action.

A 14-man squad departed Wednesday for Harare to play a two-week series that also involves South Africa -- Australia`s first international commitment since the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh more than four months ago.

"I think it will be a tough series. It`s not a token tour, it`s about winning," said Clarke.

Several key players are absent, including injured all-rounder Shane Watson, fast bowler Ryan Harris and father-to-be David Warner.

This has opened the door for the likes of Phil Hughes, Mitch Marsh, Ben Cutting and Kane Richardson to stake their claim to a regular first-team place.

Clarke said he expected them all to make the most of their chance and put pressure on the players not travelling.

"Obviously it is unfortunate that we have a few injuries, but it`s exciting for people like Mitch Marsh; Phil Hughes gets an opportunity, as does Kane Richardson and Ben Cutting," he said.

"It`s a good chance for them to grab their opportunity. The reason you train so hard and perform so well in first-class cricket is to represent Australia, so when you get a chance you have to make the most of it."

But Clarke also denied the players would be treating it as a try-out for the World Cup, to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand in February-March next year.

"I think they`ll be seeing it as an opportunity to be part of our one-day team, to try and get their foot in the door, cement their spot and make it hard for the players that aren`t on this tour to get back into the team," he said.

"That`s how I`d like them to see it. Unfortunately there`s only 11 spots and we`ve probably got 20 players, in my opinion, that are ready to be a part of that 11. So now it comes down to consistent performance.

"But I`m certainly not there to give guys an opportunity -- I`m there to win."

The series marks the start of a gruelling schedule for Australia.

Following Zimbabwe, they play Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates and then host South Africa, England and India in limited-overs fixtures plus Tests before the 2015 World Cup.

After that, they head to the West Indies before the 2015 Ashes series and then a series in Bangladesh. New Zealand, the West Indies and India are scheduled to tour Australia during the southern-hemisphere summer of 2015-16.

Despite the long international lay-off, Clarke said all the players looked "in pretty good shape".

"I`m confident we will be right come the first game," he said.

Australia`s first match of the six-game round-robin series is against Zimbabwe on August 25.