Clark ruled out of tour

Australia’s chances of retaining their No.1 Test status in South Africa have suffered a massive blow with key fast bowler Stuart Clark ruled out of the tour after succumbing to his elbow injury.

Cricket Australia’s National Selection Panel (NSP) today announced Stuart Clark will not be considered for selection for Australia’s upcoming African tour.

"The NSP has been advised that unfortunately Stuart Clark has had to withdraw from the Sheffield Shield match to be played tomorrow to give his elbow further time to recover following his recent surgery," said chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch.

"Given the schedule of the Australian team over the next 12 months, including an Ashes series, the NSP will be taking a conservative approach in regards to the management of Stuart’s recovery and his return to cricket is prudent.

" Stuart has outlined he hopes to play again for New South Wales at the end of February, a decision that will be made in close consultation with Australian and New South Wales medical staff.

"Unfortunately due to this Stuart will not be considered for selection in the Test squad for South Africa which will be announced next week and leaves for South Africa on 16 February."

Clark will not play in the Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania from tomorrow as expected after experiencing discomfort following his comeback to grade cricket last weekend.

Clark had surgery six weeks ago to remove bone spurs from his right elbow and returned to take four wickets for Sydney University on Sunday. However, he conceded afterwards that all would depend on how his arm reacted to the strain in coming days. His elbow has not pulled up well and therefore Burt Cockley was called up in his place for NSW.

With Brett Lee already ruled out of the tour, Clark’s absence will result in Australia taking one of their most inexperienced attacks overseas in recent memory. It’s likely selectors will choose the same pace trio that won the third Test in Sydney earlier this month: Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger.

Clark was absent from that series – lost 2-1 – and much of the blame for Australia’s defeat was directed at an inability to take 20 wickets. Clark was a weapon captain Ricky Ponting was sorely craving, given the paceman’s magical debut in South Africa in 2006 when he captured 20 wickets at 15.85 to be named player of the series.

Meanwhile, batting prodigy Phillip Hughes faces the five most important days of his young career, with Australian selector Jamie Cox travelling more than 1600 kilometres to see whether the youngster is good enough for the Test team.

Cox has revealed Hughes and fellow Blues opener Phil Jaques could both earn selection for the tour.

While the two battle each other for the opener’s spot vacated by Matthew Hayden, selectors may include them both in the travelling squad to be named early next week.

"He [Hughes] is heading down the right path. Scoring a lot of runs is the one currency that is very hard to ignore, it is the one true pathway," Cox said. "There could well be positions for both [Hughes and Jaques]."

Cox flew from Adelaide to Canberra last night for today’s Prime Minister’s XI match at Manuka Oval, and will later drive to Newcastle for the Shield clash.

Hughes, 20, said he preferred not to think about the enormity of his next two games as he joined his PM’s XI teammates in the national capital yesterday. "I don’t want to look too far ahead, I like to keep it very simple," he said.

Cox said Hughes had the chance to establish an international career. "[South Africa] is one of the toughest tours but it could set up a wonderful career and the same can be said for the Ashes later this year," he said.

Hughes said he wasn’t bothered by the hectic schedule, having to fly to Sydney after today’s match and then catch a bus to Newcastle. "I love playing cricket," he said.

It is believed the selectors will name a 14-man touring party.