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January 2, 2013
As they seek one more chance for Michael Hussey to roar the team victory song, Australia will field four fast bowlers in a Sydney Test match for the first time in 58 years. They were moved to lengthen their bowling attack by Mitchell Johnson's superlative form, a tinge of green on the SCG surface, and Melbourne's firm evidence of Sri Lankan batting weakness against pace and bounce.
Having made an unbeaten 92 at the MCG, Johnson will now find himself batting as high as No. 7, also meaning notable promotions for Matthew Wade to No. 6 and the captain Michael Clarke to No. 4. The composition of the XI appears to have been governed as much by Sri Lankan weakness as the strength of Australia's bowling options, while Glenn Maxwell and Usman Khawaja will have to wait until India for a chance to audition in the respective roles of spin-bowling allrounder and middle-order batsman.
Johnson's retention alongside the recalled Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird and Peter Siddle provides Australia with their deepest pace bowling attack for a Sydney Test since Ron Archer, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston and Alan Davidson competed for the ball against England in December 1954. Nathan Lyon's spin may again be reduced to a minor role should Sri Lanka again show the sort of hesitance against pace that defined the Boxing Day match. Aware of the hysteria that often accompanies such a selection, Clarke took care to stress that he wanted his fast men to bowl well rather than merely bowling short.
"You can expect some good fast bowling but it doesn't necessarily need to be short. It's about execution," Clarke said. "We have plans for each individual player. Some of those plans involve short-pitched bowling but not necessarily for every player. I don't think you will see anything ridiculous. It's about us bowling well to our plans, catching well, and having some more success."
While Johnson has appeared to revel in the freedom of being an experienced bowler without the burden of responsibility he has felt in the past, he will now have a role commensurate with the ability he demonstrated at the MCG. He batted notably higher on the list of batsmen in Australia's match-eve net session, and has the chance to prove himself a less streaky player by performing with bat and ball in Sydney.
"He's as hungry as he's ever been," Clarke said. "He feels like he's back bowling and batting very well. I think he knows in this group now he's a senior player and has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He needs to perform like a senior player, like he has since coming back into the team. I think Mitch is probably enjoying a leadership role around the group.
"He's back in good form but if ask Mitch I'm sure he'd say he can get better. With the right attitude you go a long way to playing your best cricket and trying to improve. His experience around the ground is crucial and his attitude is fantastic. We left him out in Hobart and he had the right attitude. He made it clear he wanted to be back full time playing for Australia in all forms of the game.
"If that means he has to miss a game every now and then to get himself selected more regularly then he's happy to fight for that position."
Hussey's decision to retire while still performing at a level to rival the best in the world was initially a shock to Clarke and the coach Mickey Arthur, but Australia's captain denied the team would be adversely affected by it. He also reckoned that other players like Siddle, David Warner and Ed Cowan were ready to take up a greater sense of leadership within the team, shorn as it has been of more than 200 Test matches with the exits of Hussey and Ricky Ponting.
"I think over the next 12 months you'll see more of the leaders in our group stand up," Clarke said. "I think there's been a lot of responsibility put on a lot of players in the change room since I've taken over the captaincy, I've asked the players to work on their leadership, to feel like they are captain or vice-captain of the team. I've said my whole career that you don't need a C or a VC beside your name to lead. It's just because of the age more than anything and being around for such a long time that Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting have been put on that pedestal as leaders.
"They've played a big role there, but they're also leaving the game at a time when they've come forward, not only as individual players but as leaders in the group. I think over the next 12 months you'll see these young players stand up because they're ready for it. A lot of guys will be emotional that Mr Cricket's finishing up in Test match cricket after this game. He'll definitely be missed.
"But our goal is the same as it was for Punter, we want to make sure we send them out on a high, hopefully the result's a little bit different to what it was in Perth, but we'd love to see Michael Hussey go out with a win, and hopefully another Test match hundred for him."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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