England will be weaker without Pietersen, says Clarke

By Nick Mulvenney SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Clarke has absolutely no doubt England will be a weaker side without batsman Kevin Pietersen when the Ashes rivalry resumes in Cardiff on July 8. Pietersen was sacked by England last year following the 2013-14 trip to Australia during which he was accused of being disengaged from the team as the tourists crashed to a 5-0 defeat. Despite being England's most prolific batsman in all forms of the game and going back to score runs in county cricket, the 34-year-old was told last week he would not be part of the side for the Ashes this year. Clarke, speaking on Sunday before his departure for a two-test tour of the West Indies that precedes the Ashes, said he had sympathy for Pietersen but that his absence would make Australia's task easier. "There's two sides for me -- there's the personal side where I feel for 'KP' because I get on well with him and I'd love to see him back playing cricket for England," he told reporters at Sydney Airport. "His form has been outstanding, he's still a great player, I know he wants to play for England so I feel for him on that side. "On the other side, we go there soon to play against England. Any team without Kevin Pietersen won't be as strong, I think his statistics speak for themselves. He's been a wonderful play for a long time and he's still in career best form." Clarke said it was important that Australia's players were not distracted by the circus surrounding Pietersen's exclusion, which has enjoyed widespread coverage Down Under. "I've tried to stay quiet and keep out of it. The last thing we want to do as a team is get caught up in what's happening in England or West Indies or anywhere else," he added. "We need to stay focused and make sure we're as well prepared as possible. "England will be tough. When we get there, no matter what 11 players they put on the field, they will be tough, they know their conditions really well." Clarke said it was also vital that the team focused on performing well in the two tests in Dominica and Jamaica next month and did not dwell too much on the prospect of winning the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001. "It's been a long time but ... we're being really focused on doing all the right things so we can perform at our best," he said. "We'll be really dedicated and disciplined with this trip to West Indies. Hopefully individuals will get some form behind them for England, and we'll worry about that when we get there."