Hilfenhaus set to miss second Test
Ben Hilfenhaus is set to join Mitchell Johnson on the sidelines for Friday's second Test after Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, hinted that Ryan Harris was strongly in contention for a recall alongside Doug Bollinger. Bollinger is expected to replace Johnson, who was dropped following Australia's toothless display during England's 1 for 517 at the Gabba, while Cricinfo understands that the selectors have opted for Harris over Hilfenhaus on a wicket that is not expected to offer much conventional swing beyond the first day.
"Hilfy's strengths are his ability to swing the new ball, he's very consistent, bowls in good areas and can tie batters down, as we saw at different times during the Brisbane Test," said Ponting. "Ryan's strengths are he's grown up playing all his cricket here, he's probably slightly quicker through the air, and he hits the wicket a bit harder than Ben does, and he's probably a better reverse-swing bowler for later in the game, which comes into consideration in Adelaide."
Harris, who has a chronic knee injury, has been in excellent form on the domestic scene since returning from off-season surgery, while Hilfenhaus was Australia's best bowler in the tour of India in October. Although Hilfenhaus launched Australia's Ashes campaign in dramatic fashion by capturing Andrew Strauss for a third-ball duck in Brisbane, he failed to claim another wicket in 50.3 overs for the match. He particularly struggled for penetration when the new ball went soft, and is understood to be feeling the effects of a slight hamstring strain.
Harris, meanwhile, learned his cricket at the Adelaide Oval before moving to Queensland three years ago, and with his extra pace through the air is a likelier man to exploit any reverse-swing that may be on offer at a venue that can favour the art. "If you put all those things together, it makes that decision a pretty difficult one," Ponting said.
Bollinger, whose tally of 49 in 11 matches to date makes him Australia's only remaining bowler in the top ten of the ICC World Rankings, seems certain to return after losing out to Peter Siddle at Brisbane. With Johnson already cut from the 13-man squad, the notion of purging two of the three specialist quick bowlers is a drastic one.
"Is it unstable [to make two bowling changes]?" Ponting asked. "No, because we have to pick the best team for every condition that we are confronted with in the summer. We didn't win a Test last week, and so hopefully the team we pick this week will be good enough to win. We wouldn't make changes if we didn't think it would make the attack better for this game. We've got to pick the best five bowlers we could possibly have to get 20 wickets in each game."
Harris, a bowler whom Ponting rates highly, bowled especially sharply during Australia's first practice session at the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday. However, he did not feature in the nets on Thursday, leading to a suggestion that he was feeling the effects of his knee problem.
Ponting denied that this was the case. "We're not worried about Ryan's knee at all," he said. "The reason he didn't bowl today was nothing to do with his knee. We've made one big decision to leave a guy out [Johnson], so we wouldn't be doing that if we were taking a risk on someone who's got an injury. We want to keep it up our sleeves for tomorrow morning, and see what the best 11 is."
Harris' knee is now a case of bone rubbing on bone and he will have to manage the pain throughout the rest of his career, hence the caution during Thursday's session. He convinced the selectors of his form and fitness by claiming four wickets for Queensland in a one-day game last week, and a further six in the recent Sheffield Shield fixture against Victoria. He impressed Ponting during his only two Tests to date, against New Zealand in March, during which he claimed nine wickets at 23.
"Coming out of the game he played the other day, he had a good bowl yesterday and we didn't expect all of our bowlers bowling every day before the game," said Ponting. "That's pretty much what the staff wanted them to do, to get their workload high enough leading into the Test. If you look at both Bollinger and Harris, what they've done in state cricket has been pretty impressive. I faced Dougie this morning and he was impressive, while Ryan was on the mark yesterday. They are obviously ready to go so we'll work things out tomorrow morning."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.