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The invisible pacemen: Wild Thing beware - a generation of fast bowlers denied Test caps by record-breaking trio

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12th January, 2024
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Every generation of Australian cricket has what-if stories about the players who were good enough for the international arena but for whatever reason didn’t get a run. 

Back in the 1990s, there was a galaxy of star batters who played little Test cricket or none at all due to the quality of the Australian side. 

Players such as Stuart Law, Michael Bevan, Jamie Siddons, Michael DiVenuto, Jamie Cox endured careers of endless frustration as they couldn’t get a look-in despite mountains of runs at Sheffield Shield level. 

Damien Martyn, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer also spent long stints on the outer before finally getting an extended run at Test level once Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Steve and Mark Waugh finally moved on. 

Nowadays there’s an armada of fast bowlers who are being denied a chance to wear the baggy green cap due to the unprecedented dominance and durability of captain Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. 

Since Cummins and Starc broke into the Test team in late 2011, there have been just nine fast bowlers who have made their debut for Australia, including Hazlewood, who started three years later. 

Only one of those other quicks in that timeframe, Victoria’s James Pattinson, has played more than 10 Tests. 

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Five of the nine are now retired, Jackson Bird is still wheeling away at Sheffield Shield level for NSW at 37 while Jhye Richardson, Michael Neser and Scott Boland are the only other pacemen with Test experience who have some hope of representing their country again. 

Australia’s next young prospect, 25-year-old Lance Morris, was not selected for the two-Test series which starts next week against the West Indies after more than 12 months of being in the squad but remaining on the fringe of selection. 

DebutTestsWickets
James PattinsonDecember 20112181
John HastingsNovember 2012 11
Jackson BirdDecember 2012934
James FaulknerAugust 201316
Joe MennieNovember 201611
Chadd SayersMarch 201812
Jhye RichardsonJanuary 2019311
Michael NeserDecember 202127
Scott Boland December 20211035

For an express pace bowler like “The Wild Thing”, he is at the ideal age to be performing in the international arena – his body is able to withstand the rigours of his role but he’s not starting to slow down. 

But getting a start is nigh on impossible with the top trio churning out the Tests with quality options like Boland and to a lesser extent, Neser, filling in when needed in recent years. 

You could say fast bowlers like John Hastings, James Faulkner, Joe Mennie and Chadd Sayers were unlucky to only get one crack at Test cricket but it could have been worse. 

The nearly quicks

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The Cummins-Starc-Hazlewood era is littered with players who in most other eras would have been admitted to the exclusive club of Australian Test players. 

Ben Cutting was named in the 12-man squad for the first Test of 2011-12 at the Gabba but missed out on a dream debut on his home track when the selectors opted to hand Starc his first start. 

The lanky Queenslander was released from the squad to go back to Shield cricket, suffered a side strain and dropped out of the selection picture. He ended up playing four ODIs and seven T20s for Australia but that was as close as he came to Test cricket. 

Tasmanian seamer Andrew Fekete was selected, aged 30, for the 2015 tour of Bangladesh after his best season in the Shield, taking 37 wickets at 23.1 to top the charts. 

But the tour was postponed for a couple of years due to security concerns and the Victorian-born Tiger never received another national call-up in the remaining four years of his first-class career. 

James Pattinson of Australia

James Pattinson. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Later that year the national selectors said publicly that Jason Behrendorff was going to be called into the Test squad but they didn’t pick him when he went down with a back injury. 

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Nathan Coulter-Nile and Boland were called up instead but neither played. Coulter-Nile ended up representing Australia in 60 white-ball games while Boland at least ended up with a baggy green cap but despite his superb record, has only been used 10 times since his stunning 2021 Boxing Day Test debut. 

In 2018, Queensland’s Brendan Doggett was chosen for the tour of UAE to play Pakistan but after not being used in the only warm-up game, he carried the drinks for the two Tests. He was also on standby for the tour to Pakistan four years later but didn’t get flown over. 

Chris Tremain recently passed the milestone of 300 wickets in Sheffield Shield and six years ago, while playing for Victoria, he was named in the Test squad to face India for the home series. 

However, the established trio from his home state of NSW played all four Tests, preventing yet another quick from earning their international stripes. 

Another Bluebagger, Sean Abbott, has also been toiling away at domestic level for more than a decade but although he’s been used 32 times in the limited-overs arena for Australia, a spot in the 2020 Test squad against India is the closest he has been to a five-day call-up. 

Mark Steketee celebrates after taking five wickets.

Mark Steketee celebrates after taking five wickets. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Mark Steketee is another of the current Shield seamers still hoping they can crack it for a Test berth in this impenetrable era – the Queenslander was named in the Test squad for the tour of South Africa in early 2021 but the trip was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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He was also taken to Pakistan the following year but not used and at 29, he still has a few years to avoid becoming just another very good fast bowler who fell short of the baggy green due to the superstar trio who keep rewriting the record books. 

Cummins-Starc-Hazlewood now have 348 wickets from the 26 Tests they have played together, overtaking the fearsome Windies attacks of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding (331) and Marshall, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh (338) during the series sweep of Pakistan. 

They need just 10 more to overtake Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston and Keith Miller as Australia’s greatest pace trio of all time. There’s a fair chance that will happen next week when the outclassed Windies batters take guard at the Adelaide Oval. 

But they’re still a long way shy of the best Aussie threesome when you throw spin into the equation – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, who took 625 together in the 47 Tests they played alongside each other.

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