Australia’s Test pace depth may soon be challenged, with star quicks Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in doubt for the Test tour against Pakistan in October.
Australia will be landing in the UAE in about eight weeks from now to play two Tests and three T20s, but Hazlewood and Cummins reportedly are still trying to overcome back injuries.
Mitchell Starc said on Sunday he expects to be fit to play against Pakistan, which is great news for Australia given his record in Asia – 33 wickets at an average of 26 from eight Tests.
But Starc also revealed that neither Cummins nor Hazlewood were back bowling yet.
Australia surely would be loath to rush back either quick given their importance to three massive upcoming events – Australia’s home Test series against world number one team India, followed by the World Cup and the Ashes in England next year.
So there may well be two pace spots up for grabs. Australia will likely play two spinners in the UAE, as they have done in every Test they’ve played in Asia over the past four calendar years, but they’ll also take at least three quicks, with Starc an automatic selection.
Here are the main pace contenders to play in Pakistan:
34 Test wickets at an average of 31.
Bird has never played a Test in Asia but has twice been picked on Test tours of the continent – the 2016 tour of Sri Lanka and last year’s tour of India. The tall right-armer has been on the periphery of the Test team since making his debut nearly six years ago, playing nine Tests in that time.
But I am not convinced he is suited to playing on the dry, flat pitches that are typical in the UAE. The 31-year-old has lost a yard of pace and now operates mainly in the 125-132kmh range. His main weapon – sharp lift – makes him a far better option on the bouncier pitches in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand than on the low decks in the UAE.
248 wickets at 24 in first-class cricket
Sayers made his international debut in Australia’s most recent Test match, in South Africa, after only being called into the squad for that series when Bird got injured.
The South Australian swing bowler was long overdue to get a crack at Test cricket but looked out of his depth in that match. Sayers was accurate, as expected, but completely lacked penetration, rarely troubling the Proteas batsmen as he took just two wickets from 49 overs.
The 30-year-old’s lack of pace appeared to be a hindrance as he bowled in the 118-125kmh range throughout that match. It is hard to see how a short bowler (180cm) operating at such a gentle pace can be effective on the slow, flat decks in the UAE.
22 wickets at 28 in first-class cricket
The Western Australian prodigy has been fast tracked by the selectors over the last 18 months, making his international debut in T20 cricket aged just 20 early last year, playing four ODIs home and away against England this year, and was a shock selection in the Test squad in South Africa.
The 21-year-old is part of this month’s Australia A tour of India but, strangely, he will play only the one-day matches not the first-class fixtures. This suggests the selectors don’t view him as a strong option for the tour of the UAE, otherwise surely they would have wanted him to get his first experience of red-ball cricket in Asia.
170 wickets at 23 in first-class cricket
This is the man I would pick to open the bowling with Starc. The Victorian is the best bowler in Australia yet to play a Test. No one has taken more wickets over the past three Sheffield Shield seasons, Tremain having grabbed 129 wickets at 20 in that time.
What’s more, he’s achieved that while playing half his matches at the MCG, which has been an absolute road in recent years. This will have prepared him well for bowling on dead decks.
Tremain is exactly the type of paceman the Australian selectors like – he’s tall (193cm), he swings the ball, and he’s quick, having been clocked at up to 148kmh during his debut ODI series in South Africa, in 2016.
The 26-year-old is yet to play a first-class match outside of Australia but is set to rectify that in the coming weeks when he plays for Australia A in India. Those two matches, played on what are expected to be dry, slow pitches in Vizag, will be the perfect Test audition.
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WA left armer Joel Paris and Queensland duo Michael Neser and Brendan Doggett are the other three quicks, apart from Tremain, in the Australia A squad for the first-class matches in India. Doggett is unlikely to play against Pakistan, having played just seven first-class matches to date. But, then again, selectors have made some truly odd Test picks in recent years.
Having already played international cricket, albeit in the one day format, Paris and Neser would seem to be closer. The reality is, if Hazlewood and Cummins are unavailable, any of Paris, Neser or Doggett could snare a Test debut by dominating for Australia A.
Meanwhile, beanpole express quick Billy Stanlake will only play in Australia A’s one-day fixtures in India but, after some stunning white-ball spells, he too is an outside chance.