Bird hopes for more Melbourne success
If Mitchell Johnson was a horses-for-courses selection against South Africa at the WACA, Jackson Bird must be a dead cert for Boxing Day at the MCG. An accurate seamer whose game revolves around making the batsmen play, Bird has had remarkable success in his only two first-class appearances at the MCG. To be fair, there's hardly a venue within Australia where his record is not outstanding.
At 26, Bird has a chance of becoming Australia's 431st Test cricketer on Boxing Day against Sri Lanka. He is effectively competing with Johnson for the final place in Australia's attack, a spot that has opened up due to the side injury suffered by Ben Hilfenhaus at Bellerive Oval. Bird might not be a like-for-like replacement for Hilfenhaus but he would offer the selectors a degree of reliability, which on Melbourne's drop-in pitches is no bad thing.
"Ben is more of a swing bowler where I tend to hit the wicket a little bit more," Bird said in Melbourne on Wednesday. "I certainly don't bowl as fast as Mitchell Johnson does. Mitch is a great bowler and I suppose whoever gets the nod between me and him will hopefully do a good job.
"The MCG is a great place to play. There's always a little bit in the wicket for the fast bowlers. I definitely do enjoy playing here ... My game works on being patient and trying to bowl the same ball every time and challenging the defence."
It's a method that has served Bird wonderfully well in his short first-class career. Last summer was his first season of state cricket, a career that was kick-started by his move from New South Wales to Tasmania. He topped the Sheffield Shield wicket tally with 53 victims and was named the tournament's Player of the Year, and this season he is again the leading wicket-taker so far.
In his 17 first-class matches, Bird has collected 87 wickets at an average of 19.72, and at the MCG his record is 14 victims at the astounding average of 12.07 from two games. In his first match at the venue, Bird collected five wickets in each innings, including the key Victorian trio of Chris Rogers, David Hussey and Cameron White in both innings. Johnson has managed only one five-wicket haul in his eight first-class appearances in Melbourne.
Of course, statistics aren't everything, but the ability to maintain such a strong record over a season and a half has impressed John Inverarity and his selection panel. Bird was picked for the Australia A tour of England earlier this year but was overlooked for the Australia A game against South Africa in November. However, Bird revealed the selectors had assured him at the time he would be firmly in contention for a Test call-up if injuries affected the frontline bowlers.
"I've been in communication with the selectors for the last couple of Test matches," Bird said. "When Ben went down I thought I might be a chance. Luckily enough I got the call ... I had pretty good communications with John Inverarity during that period when [the Australia A side] got selected so I wasn't too disappointed when I missed out. I thought it might be a good thing that they were saving me for the Test match."
Even if the call-up doesn't turn into a Test debut, it has certainly justified Bird's decision to head south from Sydney in an effort to break in to first-class cricket. It is not as if Bird was plucked from nowhere - in 2006 he was part of the Australia Under-19 World Cup squad that also featured David Warner, Matthew Wade, Usman Khawaja, Moises Henriques, Aaron Finch, Jon Holland and Ben Cutting - but he knew that his chances in New South Wales would be slim.
"I moved down there in the first place just for an opportunity," Bird said. "I always thought I was good enough to play first-class cricket but in New South Wales there were a lot of good fast bowlers going around like Pat Cummins and Trent Copeland, who were making their debuts for New South Wales and Australia. I was 24 by that time and once Tassie offered me a contract I thought it might be my last chance to play first-class cricket so I jumped at the opportunity."
Australia's selectors are glad he made the move as well.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here