Australia’s former pace spearhead Brett Lee says Mitchell Johnson is the only contender to replace the injured Ben Hilfenhaus for the Boxing Day Test.
Johnson made a fine return after a 12-month absence from the team with a six-wicket performance in the Perth Test against South Africa earlier this month before being named 12th man for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Hobart this week.
A side-strain injury to Hilfenhaus during the Test has prompted Australia’s selectors to add another pace bowler to their squad for Melbourne.
The uncapped Jackson Bird joins left-arm quicks Johnson and Mitchell Starc and fast bowling leader Peter Siddle in a battle for three spots.
Siddle claimed match figures of 9-104 in Australia’s 137-run win in Hobart while Starc’s second-innings performance of 5-63 was described by coach Mickey Arthur as awesome.
“To me, the natural thing to do would be to give it to Mitchell Johnson because he’s earned the right to be back in the Australian side,” said Lee, whose tally of 310 Test wickets places him behind only Glenn McGrath (563) and Dennis Lillee (355) among Aussie quicks.
“Being 12th man, now having the opportunity to come through, someone’s got to fill the void of Ben Hilfenhaus now.
“So you’d think naturally what would happen is it would be Mitchell Johnson that gets his opportunity.”
Bird regards Johnson as a great bowler although he’s confident he can play the role of third seamer if required.
“I certainly don’t bowl as fast at Mitchell Johnson does,” Bird said in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“Whoever gets the nod between me and him will do a great job.”
Sydney-born Bird only made his first-class debut 13 months ago after accepting an offer to play for Tasmania. After topping the wicket-taking table in the Shield last season with 53 victims, the right-arm paceman is on top again with 27 at 20.55 in six matches.
Bird says he’s not a like-for-like replacement for swing specialist Hilfenhaus.
“I tend to hit the wicket a bit more,” Bird said.
“It depends on what the selectors want to do, in terms of playing two left armers or one left-armer.”
Bird says he loves bowling at the MCG where he has taken 14 wickets at 12.07 in two Shield games.
“There’s always a little bit in the wicket for the fast bowlers,” he said.
The addition of a fresh face would bring new energy to the squad, according to Arthur.
“There’s no secret that we’re looking for guys who can bowl at almost 140 kilometres an hour and he certainly can do that,” Arthur said.
However the national coach admits he’s never seen Bird play.
“I’m really looking forward to having a look at him and seeing what he can give us,” Arthur said.