Australia news October 30, 2012

Starc, Hilfenhaus battle for conditioning

Mitchell Starc admits to being six kilograms underweight and feeling run down. Ben Hilfenhaus has not delivered a red ball in anger since April.

At their best both Starc and Hilfenhaus are incisive Test match bowlers, but how close to their best can they possibly be in time for the first match against South Africa in Brisbane?

On the same day Starc returned home from a highly successful but not altogether helpful run of Twenty20 matches that began in the UAE against Pakistan in September and concluded with the Champions League final victory with Sydney, Hilfenhaus bowled his first spell in Australia since last summer. Quite understandably, he struggled for rhythm, returning a modest 1 for 74 from 13 overs.

From Thursday Hilfenhaus will return to first-class combat in the Sheffield Shield, ahead of the Gabba Test, and Starc will join him in whites from Friday. They are likely to be duelling for the final spot in Australia's bowling attack, given that Peter Siddle and James Pattinson are in far better condition due to their not being required at the CLT20.

"I'm really looking forward to a red ball. It's been a few months of white ball cricket," Starc said. "I'm looking forward to picking up a red ball in preparation for a Shield match starting this Friday first of all and in preparation for this Test if I get the call-up. My main focus is the Shield game against Queensland.

"There have been a lot of workload issues and the bowling coach has come over to South Africa to look after the Australian guys as well. I'm pretty happy with the amount of balls I've been bowling over the last few months. There's no secret we've been doing stuff outside of training to make up the numbers."

The numbers Starc will be equally keen to make up are those on the scales, given he lost seven kilograms due to a gastric complaint in Sri Lanka, and his efforts to recover them were hampered by a follow-up illness in South Africa. While Starc's speed and swing were largely unaffected in the short bursts T20 requires, his stamina will be open to question.

"I'm doing a lot better now," Starc said. "Obviously I'm still down on energy. I lost weight in Sri Lanka and was sick again in South Africa. I got over that and was pretty happy with the way the ball was coming out in South Africa."

Another query for Starc is the matter of controlling the red ball as well as he has the white. Some time in England with Yorkshire and Australia A has helped, but he was less consistent in those matches than he managed for the Sixers both in Australia last summer and South Africa this month.

"They're both Kookaburra balls so I've taken a lot of confidence how the ball has come out over the last few months," Starc said. "For me the main thing was playing a lot of cricket back to back, starting with Yorkshire in England.

"To play a lot of games there and carry through the last few tours I've gained a lot of confidence out of that. "The ball is coming out now with a bit more consistency and a bit more swing."

As for Hilfenhaus, the surfeit of T20 matches has stretched the patience of his laconic visage, so much so that he spoke of getting away from the white ball in the sort of tone a weary accountant might reserve for getting away from the office.

"It was good to be out there more than 20 overs, legs will be a bit heavy tomorrow for sure," Hilfenhaus told Fox Sports. "Looking forward to the Shield game and getting into the red ball groove. Very important I think to get the red ball in hand, get your line and length and get away from the white ball for a little bit."

The next seven days will be vital for Starc and Hilfenhaus, and by this time next week the national selectors are likely to know which one is most ready for, and thus most likely to play at, the Gabba.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here