Australia captain Michael Clarke said on Sunday (17 May) he has absolutely no doubt England will be a weaker side without batsman Kevin Pietersen when the Ashes rivalry resumes in Cardiff on 8 July.

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 Englands 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 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 Australias task easier.

Theres probably two sides for me. Theres the personal side where obviously I feel for KP because I get on well with him and Id love to see him back playing cricket for England. His form has been outstanding, hes still a great player, I know he wants to play so, I feel for him on that side.

On the other side, we go there soon to play against England so any team without Kevin Pietersen in it, I dont think is as strong. I think his statistics speak for themselves. Hes been a wonderful player over a long period of time and hes obviously still in career best form, he told reporters at Sydney Airport.

Clarke said it was important that Australias players were not distracted by the circus surrounding Pietersens exclusion, which has enjoyed widespread coverage down under.

Ive tried to keep pretty quiet and stay out of it. I think the last thing we can afford to do as an Australian team is get caught up in whats happening in England or West Indies or anywhere else. I think its really important we need to stay focused and make sure were as well prepared as we can be.

Playing away from home is obviously your greatest challenge as an international sporting team and England will be tough. When we get there, no matter what 11 players they put on the field, they going to be really tough, they know their conditions really well, he added.

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.

Weve been really focused on making sure were doing all the right things so we can perform at our best. Know the opposition, know the conditions, make sure individually youre doing your role as well you possible can be in our team, and that has given us success.

So, our plans wont change, well be really dedicated and disciplined with this trip to West Indies. Hopefully individuals will get some form behind them in the lead up to England, and well worry about that when we get there, he said.

The two test tour of the West Indies starts in Dominica on 3 June.