Australia undecided on all-pace attack
Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon might have to wait until the morning of the match to find out which of them will carry the drinks for the third Test against India in Perth. The Australians trained on Thursday afternoon at the WACA and were greeted by a pitch that had lost some of its colour from the previous day but was still green enough to encourage the fast men.
Australia played four fast bowlers against England last summer and won on a similar surface. However, the curator Cameron Sutherland said it was important not to read too much into the green tinge, which was partly caused by a new type of grass the WACA groundstaff had used over the past few years, and Australia's captain Michael Clarke said selection would be tough.
"We haven't selected a team yet," Clarke said when the Australians arrived at training on Thursday. "I haven't even seen the wicket today. I'll make sure I have a look before training and we'll make our decision tomorrow morning."
Asked what he would need to see to encourage him to play four fast men, Clarke said: "Exactly what I saw yesterday: a wicket that was pretty hard and had a lot of grass ... and we'll give it another day as well, see how it pans out the rest of the afternoon and have tomorrow morning to make the decision."
Conventional wisdom would suggest that India's batsmen would have more trouble against an all-pace attack on a pitch expected to offer plenty of bounce. The offspinner, Lyon, has taken only two wickets in the series and has spoken of how challenging it has been to bowl against India's batsmen due to their quick hands and ability to score anywhere around the wicket.
However, Clarke said he did not feel India would necessarily be more susceptible to pace at the WACA than spin, and he said he was loath to enter any Test without a slow-bowling option.
Whatever the Australians decide, they will be pleased to regain Ryan Harris, who took nine wickets in the Perth victory last summer. Harris has been sidelined since the first Test of the South African tour in November with a hip problem, and has had a string of other injuries during his short international career. He has spoken of his nerves at the possibility that he could break down again, but Clarke is confident Harris enters the Perth Test in a good space, physically.
"We get Ryan Harris back, who is as good a fast bowler as I've played with through my career and he's had a lot of success," Clarke said. "Being a fast bowler is much tougher than being a batsman, on your body, the actual workload and the pressure that goes through your body when you're bowling. Rhino bowls high 140ks and runs in hard.
"In series like this, when you have back-to-back Test matches, there's always extra strain on the guys. It's more so for fast bowlers. I'd love to see Rhino play every Test match now for the rest of his career but who knows how long it's going to go for. He's in a really good place, he's fit and strong at the moment. He's bowling as good as I've seen in the nets and I know he's looking forward to this opportunity."
The inclusion of Harris will be part of a straight swap for James Pattinson, who has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a foot injury. That leaves the Lyon-Starc decision as the only issue for Australia's selectors and Clarke said he believed Starc, who made his Test debut against New Zealand in December, had a bright future for Australia.
"Mitchell is a very talented young player," Clarke said. "We've seen him have a little bit of success over the last 12 months, whether it be first-class cricket, domestic cricket or for Australia. I think he's got a bright future for Australia. He bowls left-arm, he's quite tall and a very strong boy. He bowls good pace.
"It is certainly an advantage to have that option, even in this Test match, to give him an opportunity or to go with our spinner. But I think you're going to see a lot more of Mitchell over the next few years, that's for sure."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo