Which Australian quicks will tame England?

Date: October 18, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

One of the keys to Australia’s hopes of Ashes glory this summer is whether the pace arsenal can keep England’s batsmen under control.

In spite of the 3-nil win in the most recent series England’s batsmen failed to flatter.

With the exception of Ian Bell, who scored three centuries amongst his 562 runs at 62.4, none of his teammates made above average contributions.

Despite each scoring a century, Kevin Pietersen and Joe Root averaged 39 and 38 respectively, while Jonathon Trott (29), Johnny Bairstow (29), Alastair Cook (28) and Matt Prior (19) all failed to impress.

If England’s batsmen turn out similar numbers this summer the Ashes urn will be very much up for grabs.

Cricket Australia’s high performance manager Pat Howard has announced that a shortlist of eight pace bowlers has been highlighted as the men to get the job done this summer.

The players themselves have been kept in the dark as to who they may be but their respective states have been informed so as to monitor their workloads to help ensure each is up and running if required.

In recent years Australia’s pace bowling stocks have been regularly diluted due to injury and the situation is no different at present with James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird all early returnees from England with back complaints.

Each is expected to be fit at some stage of the summer but none will be in consideration early on while Pat Cummins, who has hardly bowled a red ball in anger following his man-of-the-match winning Test debut against South Africa in November 2011, will again be sidelined from first-class ranks for the entire season.

So, who is left and what we can expect?

There are potentially nine quicks who I believe could be part of the ‘chosen eight’ – if James Faulkner is pigeon-holed as an all-rounder – Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Clint McKay, Ben Cutting, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chadd Sayers.

Faulkner is an interesting one as he is always seen as an all-rounder yet his first-class record with the ball stacks up well alongside any of the specialist pacemen in the country.

In 38 first-class matches he has captured 138 wickets at a highly impressive 22.6 with his last three seasons in Shield ranks producing 38, 36 and 36 wickets.

He played his only Test in Australia’s last outing at The Oval in September where he claimed 6-98 with his victims including Cook, Trott, Bell and Prior.

He has the ability to move the ball both ways and his figures indicate that he could easily be chosen as a specialist bowler with his batting an added bonus.

The health of Harris is paramount.

Encouragingly, he was back on the field earlier this week for Queensland having been sidelined for two months with a hamstring injury.

After being overlooked for the opening Ashes Test at Trent Bridge he was easily the team’s best bowler through the series with 24 wickets at 19.6.

Fully fit and on-song he can prove a handful for anyone as he bowls a ‘heavy’ ball and is at the batsman all the time.

Siddle will always give 100 per cent and will bowl his last over of the day as quick as he did his first.

If there is a criticism it is the fact that he can release pressure at times by bowling a boundary ball but with 167 wickets at 29.1 through 46 Tests his dependability is clearly there.

One man who polarises is Johnson who can be either devastating or mediocre.

When compared to Siddle, the figures are almost on a par when it comes to wickets per match, average and strike rate.

There is no doubting that Johnson is back in the frame as a result of his one-day form in recent months where he has regularly generated spells in excess of 145km/h.

And, more crucially than pace, he has shown a far greater consistency with respect to control which has been his Achilles heel.

The selectors may well unleash him at the Gabba with the idea of utilising him in short, sharp bursts aimed at intimidating the tourists.

Hilfenhaus has almost become the forgotten quick after missing almost the entire last summer with injury.

He is another who needs everything to go his way though as he becomes a far less menacing prospect when he fails to swing the ball which on occasions has happened to him mid-Test.

With 99 wickets at 28.5 in 27 Tests he has the record on the board and it is worth remembering that he was the country’s leading quick in 2012 with 37 Test wickets at 21.7.

A solid start in Shield ranks will have him very much in the frame for a recall.

There is no doubting McKay’s skill with the white ball – he is currently ranked number seven in the ODI world rankings.

He is currently in India and as such will make a delayed start to the first-class summer.

He is an outsider to claim a spot early in the Ashes series.

Cutting is one who may surprise especially with the first Test being played on his home ground in Brisbane.

He has been one of the most consistent first-class performers in recent seasons and while limited to just five Shield matches last season he captured 22 wickets at 18.8.

His 119 first-class wickets in 30 games have come at 24.8 with his ability to get steepling bounce a large part of his armoury.

He got close to a baggy green in 2011-12 when he was named in the squad for the Gabba Test against New Zealand.

His ability with the bat may also get him over the line at some stage during the summer.

Of the others, Coulter-Nile’s best work has always come with the white ball although he is coming off his best Shield season having claimed 26 wickets at 28.0 last summer.

At 22, Hazlewood seems destined to play Test cricket but it may not be this summer.

Whilst he has tasted ODI action in recent months in England the selectors will be keen for him to have a big domestic first-class summer as they will with Sayers.

If he can back-up his stellar 2012-13 Shield season where his ability to swing the ball away late to the right-handers saw him net 48 wickets at 18.5 he will put considerable heat on the incumbents.

The selectors are bound to go with Lyon for the Ashes opener which leaves spots for three quicks with Shane Watson to be the fourth seamer.

If fit, Harris and Siddle are certainties.

For mine, that leaves Johnson and Hilfenhaus as the favourites for the final spot with Faulkner and Cutting also very much in the mix depending on early-season domestic form.

Howard has said that there will be no rotation policy this summer with the best available pace bowlers chosen for each Test.

By summer’s end it will be fascinating to see who they are should injuries not intervene.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 17 October 2013