Australia’s fast bowlers have gathered in Perth, uncertain of who will be carrying the drinks when the third Test begins on Thursday.
The captain Ricky Ponting has said there will be strong competition between the fast men, with Mitchell Johnson back in the mix after being dropped along with Ben Hilfenhaus for the Adelaide Test.
Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have all been named in Australia’s 12-man squad, and although there is a chance that all four could play, Ponting always prefers to have a specialist spinner on hand. If that means Michael Beer plays alongside the allrounder Steven Smith, one of the pace bowlers must sit out.
The early indications are that it won’t be Johnson, who is viewed as the most dangerous man in the attack, although his recent form has been poor. Johnson has a strong record at the WACA, where he has taken at least five wickets in all three of his Tests, and it was the venue of one of his greatest spells of bowling, when he took 8 for 61 against South Africa in 2008-09.
“He’s taken an eight-for here so he has to come back into the reckoning considering it’s a game we have to win,” Ponting told the Australian. “I’ve always used him as a strike bowler but unfortunately he wasn’t able to deliver in Brisbane. He’s had a chance to get away and sort things out and he has worked exceptionally hard in Adelaide. Hopefully we’ll see some good stuff from him in Perth this week.”
Johnson was working with the bowling coach Troy Cooley in the nets at the Adelaide Oval while his team-mates were on their way to an innings defeat, and Ponting was pleased with his progress. He was also happy with the efforts of Siddle, who took a hat-trick on the opening day of the series but hasn’t picked up a wicket since that first innings at the Gabba.
“Sids had none-for in Adelaide but I think he bowled a lot better than that,” Ponting said. “I thought he got better as the game went on and never got any results to show for it. I’m very comfortable with the way he’s going and I was very impressed with (Ryan) Harris. To come back into the side and bowl that way was really exciting. He’s someone who will bowl well at the WACA.”
The Australians have already used five different fast men – Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Siddle, Ryan Harris and Doug Bollinger – in the two Tests, and the full-time selector Greg Chappell said there weren’t a lot of options around the country. Trent Copeland and Mark Cameron have been impressive in the Sheffield Shield this season, while Peter George is also bowling well, having made his Test debut in India in October, but Chappell believed the proven men were the way to go in a crucial Ashes Test.
“Well, there are not a lot of options,” Chappell said in an interview with his brother Ian in Brisbane’s Sunday Mail. “Mitch was, up until very recently, our best wicket-taker and the one most likely to win a Test or to help us get 20 wickets. If we can get him bowling well, he’s still the most dangerous bowler we have.”
The players gathered on Sunday in Perth, where Phillip Hughes and Michael Clarke had arrived early to spend extra time working with the batting coach Justin Langer. The third Test is not expected to be easy for the batsmen, with word from the WACA curator Cameron Sutherland that the game could be over in four days.
“We’re going to aim for a fair bit of grass on top this year,” Sutherland told Perth’s Sunday Times. “Certainly we want a result and we’re confident that we’ll have a pitch that will produce a result.”