Phoenix-like, Bird is set to rise for the Ashes

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Jackson Bird looks set to make the Ashes squad, after being rested from the third round of the Sheffield Shield, along with Australia’s first-choice pace attack of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. It’s an honour the reliable seamer greatly deserves.

    Bird is underrated by many fans, who are quick to call for the likes of Chadd Sayers or Jason Behrendorff to act as the number one back-up paceman.

    There is tremendous sympathy about for the likes of Sayers and former Test players Peter Nevill and Ed Cowan, who apparently have been treated harshly by the Australian selectors.

    Bird does not seem to enjoy the same level of backing from supporters, despite returning fantastic figures across his stop-start Test career, which has stretched over five years.

    In eight Tests, the tall right-armer has grabbed 34 wickets at an average of 27. This is all the more impressive when you consider Bird’s never had a decent run in the side to build momentum, with his matches spread across four stints in the team.

    Nevill got 17 Tests on the trot from debut, yet barely an hour passes that I don’t read a comment bemoaning his “lack of opportunity” in the national line-up. Similarly, Cowan was given 18 consecutive matches, despite turning in ordinary performances, just like Nevill.

    Jackson Bird celebrates

    Ross Setford/SNPA via AP

    The Tasmanian shapes as a perfect replacement should one of the top-choice trio get injured. The second Ashes Test will be played under lights at Adelaide and Bird has taken 31 wickets at 24 in day-night first-class matches, including six wickets against Pakistan in Brisbane last summer.

    The following Tests will be played at the WACA, MCG and SCG, where Bird has brilliant first-class bowling averages of 23, 19 and 17 respectively.

    The 195cm quick has made a terrific start to the Sheffield Shield season as well, currently equal-second on the wicket-taking table behind only Starc, with 12 wickets at 22.

    Australia are spoiled for back-up quicks, with the likes of Sayers, Behrendorff and Chris Tremain all consistently elite performers in the Shield. But, for now, that trio deserves to be in line behind Bird, who has done all that could be expected of him during his brief Test career.

    He was fiercely unlucky to be leapfrogged by Joe Mennie during the Tests against South Africa last summer, with the selectors citing the excuse that Mennie was the better batsman. Perhaps stung by that criticism, Bird has since averaged 27 with the bat in his seven first-class matches.

    An all-rounder he isn’t, a quality bowler he is.

    In the first two rounds of the Shield, he has operated with his trademark accuracy, conceding a miserly 2.8 runs per over. Unable to boast the eye-catching pace of Starc or Cummins, Bird – like Hazlewood – maintains a nagging line and length, until one delivery does just enough through the air or off the seam to undo the batsman.

    Thanks to his height and upright action he earns disconcerting bounce, particularly on Australia’s hard pitches, where Bird has the wonderful Test record of 24 wickets at 24 from five matches.

    If he does get an Ashes call-up, Jackson Bird has the ability and experience to make a big impact.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco