India v Australia, 1st Test, Chennai, 2nd day February 23, 2013

Pattinson delivers in short bursts

To see him taken off after three-over spells was frustrating, but Pattinson, more than any other of Australia's current Test fast bowlers, needs to be managed conservatively

James Pattinson's workload on the second day in Chennai was a microcosm of his Test career. A short period of brilliance, then a long time out of action. Another brief and eventful display followed by another lengthy break. To see him rattle the stumps of both of India's openers in a new-ball spell of 18 deliveries and then be taken off for 20 overs was frustrating but Pattinson, more than any other of Australia's current Test fast bowlers, needs to be managed conservatively.

Dennis Lillee thinks Pattinson can be the spearhead for years to come. He possesses serious pace, swing and Lillee-like raw aggression. He is the most exciting of Australia's young fast men. Besides the nearly-forgotten Pat Cummins, he is also the most injury-prone. Since his debut in December 2011, Pattinson has played eight Tests and missed eight more through injury. It is not an encouraging ratio.

A foot stress fracture prematurely ended his first Test summer and Australia's selectors were left regretting their decision to ignore the advice of sports scientists, who correctly predicted he would break down during the Sydney Test against India. A back problem affected his trip to the West Indies last April, an abdominal strain prevented him touring England with Australia A in July and a side injury stopped him mid-Test against South Africa in Adelaide in November.

During Pattinson's Sheffield Shield comeback a month ago, Victoria's captain Cameron White was told by Cricket Australia not to bowl him for any more than 12 overs per innings as his workload was gradually increased. There were no such constraints on Pattinson in Chennai, but under the circumstances it was easy to see why Michael Clarke handled him as gently as he would a priceless and fragile possession. Because that's what he is.

Twice in his first three Tests he was Man of the Match. The only time he has gone wicketless in an innings was when he broke down after 9.1 overs in Adelaide. His average of 20.88 since his Test debut is better than Dale Steyn's during the same period. Steyn is precisely the type of bowler Australia hope Pattinson can become. He has the tools. But at 22, his body hasn't reached the point of maturity at which fast-bowling injuries usually drop away.

And so for the time being, Pattinson will be used in short, strong spells. By picking five bowlers Australia afforded themselves that luxury in Chennai, although they didn't anticipate that he would be the only wicket taker. His first spell of three overs was sharp. The ball that swung in and bowled M Vijay was 150kph, far quicker than anything the Indian bowlers could deliver. And by going for his yorkers he took the slow pitch out of the equation.

Pattinson's speed was also too much for Virender Sehwag, who played on. But his dismissal was followed by three boundaries from Sachin Tendulkar and Clarke, sensing that Pattinson's new-ball work had been done, put his strike bowler on hold for the next 20 overs. On a Chennai day that was hot but not oppressive, perhaps Pattinson could have come back sooner, especially given the way Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara became set.

But the long rest meant that when Pattinson did return he was as fresh as he had been at ball one. Again he bowled quick and although it was an offcutter that bowled Pujara, it still reached 140kph. His first spell was 3-1-16-2. His second was 3-1-9-1. He will certainly be well rested for day three. Pattinson was to come back for another spell before stumps, but Clarke was happy with the way Mitchell Starc was bowling.

Of course, there is a fine line between managing Pattinson for maximum impact and simply under-bowling him. At some point during the tour, perhaps at some stage during this match, Australia will need more from Pattinson. But if fit he will be Clarke's most valuable bowling resource during the Ashes, just as he already is on this tour. If fit. Australia can't afford for their best bowler to keep missing a Test for every one that he plays.

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