Australia’s reliance on Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins has prevented them from developing pace depth at Test level, unlike rivals India and South Africa.
Apart from the Big Three, Australia’s only quicks who have a relevant level of Test experience are veterans Peter Siddle (34 years old) and Jackson Bird (32), both of whom are clearly past their peaks.
Right now, the two best pace options outside the Test team are Victoria’s Chris Tremain and WA’s Jhye Richardson. Both are yet to make their Test debuts.
This is creating an unhealthy dependence on the Big Three, who have underperformed this past year, Cummins apart.
Because if the selectors consider dropping Starc or Hazlewood, who own 198 and 162 Test wickets apiece, their potential replacements are either the on-the-wane Siddle or Bird, or an unproven quick like Tremain, Richardson or Joe Mennie.
By comparison, both India and SA have far healthier situations. Outside of their first-choice pace trios, SA and India have back-up quicks who can step straight into Tests without their side losing much, if anything.
Waiting in the wings, India have the experienced pair of Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who have 119 and 63 Test wickets respectively.
South Africa, meanwhile, have been able to offer some crucial Test exposure to young guns Lungi Ngidi and Duanne Olivier over the past 18 months to help build their pace depth.
As a result both teams have five pace bowlers they can be comfortable of fielding in virtually any conditions. South Africa have Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, with Ngidi and Olivier as insurance, while India boast Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma, with Yadav and Bhuvneshwar as back-ups.
This is why Australia should offer Test debuts to at least one of Tremain or Richardson in this month’s two-Test series against Sri Lanka.
Tremain is the best red ball bowler yet to represent Australia, having taken 155 wickets at 21 across the past four Sheffield Shield seasons.
Richardson, meanwhile, is more of a speculative pick. But anyone who has watched the 22-year-old bowl in the Shield will be familiar with his rare mix of hurrying pace, late swing, impressive accuracy and admirable stamina.
He reminds me of his bowling idol Steyn, and with 49 wickets at 23 Richardson has made a wonderful start to his first-class career.
I argued last month that Tremain should have replaced the out-of-touch Mitchell Starc for the second Test against India.
Still I believe that Tremain should have featured at some point in that series given the laboured efforts of Starc and Hazlewood.
By series end that pair looked jaded. Both men have struggled in Tests since the start of last year, with Hazlewood averaging 35 in that time and Starc 36.
They remain quality Test cricketers, and have huge roles left to play for Australia, but right now neither is demanding Test selection. It’s the perfect time to offer opportunities to hugely-talented pacemen like Tremain and Richardson in a low-profile home series against Sri Lanka.
Australia could drop-rest-rotate (call it what you want) both of Starc and Hazlewood and still have plenty of firepower in their Test attack.
Cummins and Nathan Lyon are experienced players in career-best form and can anchor the attack. Australia should seriously consider playing both Tremain and Richardson alongside that pair for the first Test against Sri Lanka in Brisbane in 16 days from now.
Australia know what they can get out of Cummins, Starc and Hazlewood. What they need to start deciphering is which other quicks have what it takes to flourish at Test level. Because, at this point, Australia’s good pace depth exists only in theory.