Cummins could debut - Clarke
Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, has not ruled out a debut for teenage fast bowler Pat Cummins in Wednesday's first Test in Cape Town. However, Peter Siddle looms as the likely candidate to work with Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris in a three-man pace attack, with Trent Copeland the other contender.
Australia were waiting until after training on Tuesday to make their decision, but they were hampered by the weather, with the Newlands pitch covered amid heavy afternoon rain and strong wind. The famous tablecloth of white cloud spilled well down Table Mountain's slopes until the mountain was invisible, and similar conditions are expected for the first day of the game.
That could bring swing into play, and Clarke has been impressed by the shape away that Cummins has been finding in the nets and during the limited-overs portion of the trip. If he debuts, Cummins would be Australia's second-youngest Test player of all time. While he didn't take part in the tour match in Potchefstroom, that would not rule him out of contention, Clarke said.
"After he played two Twenty20s and three one-dayers, I don't think he could play [in the warm-up game] to be honest," Clarke said. "I think it was smart, let's call it workload management. I have seen him bowl enough overs to know he can bowl three or four spells in a day and bowl consistently at 145-150kph so I am not bothered about that at all.
"He's certainly in consideration. He has bowled as well as he possibly can in the nets. He's bowling good pace, swinging the ball away. He's learning every day because he is still a young kid but he's got the talent. People ask if he is ready. In my opinion you don't know if anybody is ready until you give them a crack. I think he's one of those kids who has got the natural talent, he now just needs an opportunity. But is he in our best XI for these conditions? That is what the selectors need to discuss."
Under Australia's new system, Clarke is officially one of those selectors, and he picked the medium-pacer Copeland for all three Tests on the recent tour of Sri Lanka. Copeland did not take a wicket in Potchefstroom last week and rarely looked threatening; a man who hovers around the 125kph mark is a friendlier option than the faster bowlers.
Siddle was quick and aggressive in the tour game, in which he collected five wickets for the match, and he picked up 4 for 91 in Australia's last Test, in Colombo. But last time Australia visited South Africa, Andrew McDonald played a valuable containing role with his tight lines and Clarke said that brought Copeland into the mix for this week's game.
"One of our greatest strengths in Sri Lanka was having Copes who could contain runs, and bowl tight, in good areas," he said. "The quicks know their role is not just running in and trying to take a wicket every time you bowl. Sometimes on good batting wickets you need to bowl in disciplined areas and build pressure, especially against good teams and South Africa have a good batting line-up.
"Copes did it really well in Sri Lanka but Ryan Harris did it too. Mitch bowled beautifully in the practice game, had the ball swinging back and bowled quite tight; they didn't score many runs off him. And Patty Cummins, anyone that bowls 150kph and swings the ball away from the right-hander or into a leftie, you will find it hard to get away as well."
What is not in doubt is the structure of Australia's attack, with three fast men to accompany the offspinner Nathan Lyon. The batting order picks itself, with Usman Khawaja the man to miss out.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo