Refreshed Australia ready to get back in the cricket saddle
Sydney: Australia are refreshed and champing at the bit to play international matches again as they prepare to hit the road for another hectic two years of cricket, according to coach Darren Lehmann.
After a four-month break from international cricket, Michael Clarke will lead a one-day squad to Zimbabwe on Wednesday for a triangular series also featuring South Africa.
That starts a long cycle of almost non-stop cricket with test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October and India back in Australia in December and January.
An ODI series against India and England follows as part of the preparations for the World Cup, which Australia is hosting with New Zealand early next year, before another test series in West Indies and the defence of the Ashes in England.
Given Australia had played 10 Ashes tests alone in the previous year, and the amount of cricket they will be playing over the next 12 months, Lehmann said the time off had been vital.
"Professionally, everyone was tired - coaches were tired, players were very tired and they did an amazing amount of work in 12 months so to get a break before we go on the road for two years was pretty important," Lehmann told the Cricket Australia website.
"Now the challenge is getting us back up to the skill level that we need to compete at international cricket because we`ve had the break and we`ll have to get that very quickly because we`ve got Zimbabwe and South Africa.
"I think everyone is jumping out - they just want to play."
Australia still top the rankings in one-day internationals but have slipped from the number one status in test cricket that a 5-0 Ashes sweep and 2-1 series victory in South Africa earned them.
The break has not completely cleared the injury list - Ryan Harris remains in rehab after knee surgery - but Clarke has recovered from a shoulder injury.
All rounder Shane Watson will miss the tour after rolling his ankle by standing on a ball in training last week and David Warner has decided to skip the trip to remain in Sydney to be with his fiancee, who is expecting their first child.
Lehmann, whose arrival as coach last year helped bring on a remarkable transformation of Australia`s cricketing fortunes, does not expect the players to hit top form straight away.
"From my point of view, we`ve got to get them up-skilled quick enough to compete at international level and then keep them there for a long period of time which is going to be a challenge but everyone is fresh and that`s what you want to start with," he added.
"So we`re going to be a bit rusty with the skills, but that`s okay. We`re going to make mistakes, but that`s okay.
"What we need to do is build and build and build to become a better test side, a better one-day side, a better Twenty20 side."
Clarke said the players needed to focus simply on the challenge immediately in front of them.
"If you look at our next block of two years there`s a lot of cricket, and some really important cricket as well so that`s exciting for us," he said.
"But I think that`s for others to focus on and work out what teams they`re thinking, what players they`re thinking for conditions all around the world over the next two years.
"For us, it`s about performing well."