Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, Perth November 28, 2012

Pacemen keen to grab spot for Perth

It is not uncommon to see two fast bowlers hard at work in the nets, competing for one spot. At the WACA on Wednesday, Australia took the idea to the extreme. Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, John Hastings and Josh Hazlewood were all running in and doing their darnedest to impress the selectors ahead of Friday's third Test. None of them knew how many positions would be up for grabs. It could be one, it could be four. It could be anything in between.

The first deciding factor is how Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus handle their training runs on Thursday, the end of a short turn-around following their heavy workloads in the Adelaide Test. The other issue is whether Nathan Lyon will be required, or if the selectors will choose a four-man pace attack, as they did with great success against India last summer. Lyon would enjoy the drift provided by the Fremantle doctor, the sea breeze that blows in the mid-afternoon in Perth, but he's not the only one.

Johnson has had success at the WACA, notably against the South Africans in 2008-09, when he took 11 wickets and was unplayable late on the second afternoon. But his fellow left-arm seamer Starc could justifiably expect to have the inside running, having been 12th man in the first two Tests. He used the cross-ground breeze to his advantage in Perth last season, when it helped him curl the ball in towards India's right-hand batsmen, and one delivery that swung in and trapped Sachin Tendulkar lbw was especially memorable.

"I have fond memories from last year," Starc said. "It's a nice place to come and bowl, a bit of extra pace and bounce than you get at the SCG where I play. There's more in it for the bowlers but last year it was a pretty good cricket wicket. Hopefully if I get the chance to come out here again I can bowl similar to what I did last time."

Certainly, one of Starc or Johnson should play. Even if the only position available is as a replacement for the injured James Pattinson, the left-arm variety would ask different questions of South Africa's batsmen. Graeme Smith, in particular, has been troubled by left-arm seamers in recent years. Not that Hastings and Hazlewood are out of contention.

Should an all-pace attack be employed - a distinct possibility given the success the Australians had against India, and the likelihood that the pitch will need to spend time under cover with rain forecast on match eve and the first day of the Test - Hastings and Hazlewood might be battling each other for one spot. Both are tall men who extract impressive bounce, but do not deliver the ball at express speed. Neither has played Test cricket before.

Hazlewood, 21, has been viewed as a national prospect since he first played for New South Wales at the age of 17. Nothing in his first-class form this summer - nine Sheffield Shield wickets at 46.33 - suggests he is quite ready for Test cricket, but the selectors have a hunch about him. By his own admission, his height is a key weapon, along with his consistency, but at 196 cm he has no discernible advantage over Hastings, who stands 195cm.

Hastings, 27, has the form that Hazlewood lacks. This summer, he has collected 22 Shield wickets at 19.09. Having missed all of last season due to a shoulder reconstruction, Hastings spent countless hours in the gym and has returned better for it. Compared to state team-mates Pattinson and Siddle, Hastings can appear innocuous, but he has lifted his pace this season and has reaped the rewards.

"When I wasn't bowling or batting I spent a lot of time on my fitness, working on my strength and conditioning in the gym with David Bailey, the now Australian strength and conditioning coach," Hastings told ESPNcricinfo last month of his time on the sidelines. "We worked our butts off to try to get me back. I think a yard of pace has probably helped me get a few more wickets than I normally would have in four-day cricket, and a little more durability as well, so I can continually back up my spells."

Although it is difficult to see Hastings and Hazlewood both playing, there is the outside chance that a full swap of Australia's attack could take place, should Siddle and Hilfenhaus struggle at training on Thursday. One certainty is that Australia's batsmen can expect a torrid time in the nets on match eve.

"The guys in and around the squad know there's a few places that might be up for grabs so they're certainly having a good crack in the nets," Shane Watson said on Wednesday. "That's good for the batsmen because we certainly get a competitive, high quality net session, but it's also great to be able to see how they're travelling as well."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 29, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    Serously, please play Hastings. The bloke can bowl. And why have we picked Hazelwood ahead of Jackson Bird? 6/25 against WA this week and 87 wickets at 19, as against 43 at 32. Similar amount of matches, I think I would have gone the other way.

  • Andrew on November 29, 2012, 0:54 GMT

    I actually would have Hastings in for Quinney & NOT select Watto. Watson has no current form, one innings against a red ball this summer. Watto should of been playing the Shield match against QLD this week IMO. Oz need to win this match - NO PRIZES for a drawn series. I'd risk weakening the batting line up by playing Hastings, I'd keep Lyon. I would NOT play MJ & Starc together IF Lyon plays, as I think it is preferable to have 2 right arm pacers one leftie than the other way around.

  • kieran on November 29, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    Hazelwood is there for squad experience, that's all. I think Hastings is a quality player and he would do well at 8 playing as a fourth seamer, but I think Starc & Johnson will come in for Lyon & Pattinson.

  • Merv on November 28, 2012, 23:05 GMT

    Where is Ben Cutting? The other who was selected for Australia, had a minor injury and then forgotten. A terrific all rounder. Damn - he's from QLD and we are only allowed to select from NSW and VIC. I forgot that. But didn't QLD win the 2011 Shield? Odd that.

  • S on November 28, 2012, 22:43 GMT

    Half expecting to see a wholesale swap, and seeing all four new pacemen playing. In a must win game, 20 wickets must be the priority and I think there's too much risk in Siddle or Hilfenhaus not just breaking down, but hitting the wall earlier in the match, especially if SA pile on a big first innings. Lyon will be a coin toss, whether they want to play a spinner or not.

  • Dummy4 on November 28, 2012, 19:09 GMT

    Having thought about this quite a lot, I wouldn't mind seeing Hilfy (swing) Sidds (nip and old ball specialist) Starc (left arm swing and bounce) and Hazlewood (bounce and control) as a quite varied four pronged attack. I don't really see Hilfy as being in our best three seamers, but Perth is usually a great place for new ball swing bowlers and i'd much prefer him to Johnson. Hastings i'm not convinced has the penetration required to be anything more than Siddle or Hilfy as a long term prospect. Hazlewood, although lacking the figures is a HUGE prospect by my reckoning, i'd go so far as to say McGrath like in potential, though that obviously is going to take much hard work to fulfill. At this stage i'm still willing to see our selectors working on building a team for the next five years, as I don't believe we are fully prepared to remain no.1, should we claim the title. As such i'd really rather see Starc and Hazlewood play before Hastings or Johnson.

  • Prashan on November 28, 2012, 16:51 GMT

    I think Starc, Johnson and Hastings should be the bowlers. Siddle and Hilfenhaus will be exhausted till Saturday I feel. Starc would love the bounce out of all.

  • Randolph on November 28, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    Starc is an absolute shoe in. Forget Johnson

  • Rahul on November 28, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    Whatever happened to Trent Copeland? The guy might not be express pace but was certainly impressive last year.....

  • No featured comments at the moment.