McDermott won't rush Watson into bowling
Craig McDermott, Australia's fast bowling coach, does not expect Shane Watson to be ready to bowl during the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, as he recovers from a hamstring strain, and based on what he's seen of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, McDermott is in no rush to press the allrounder into premature service either.
In his first sessions with Harris, Siddle and Johnson since resuming his duties as formal mentor for the pacemen, McDermott has been decidedly impressed by the rhythm, swing and speed of the three quick bowlers who are expected to shoulder the bulk of the bowling load at the Gabba.
The collective impression they have made means there will be less pressure on Watson to return to the bowling crease without any time building into his work, lessening the chance of re-injuring his fragile hamstring. "We will wait until the day before the game to see where he is with his bowling," McDermott said of Watson. "But he hasn't bowled so far. To rip him straight into a Test match would be pretty difficult at this stage."
While Harris and Siddle are maintaining the high standards McDermott expects, he has been gratified to see Johnson bowling with high pace, decent control and late swing. "He's in a really good space mentally, very confident about what he's doing and that's a great place for him to be at the moment," McDermott said. "The last two days he's bowled really well and really fast, so that's one great thing.
"We've got a great bowling attack - Ryan Harris is figures-wise the best bowler in Australia of all time almost, Sidds is in the top five in the world and you don't get there by not bowling well, and Mitchell's now back to his best, bowling fast and swinging the ball. That puts us in good stead for Thursday."
Among McDermott's first orders of business upon resuming a role he relinquished in 2012, was to travel to Perth and meet with Johnson, resuming a relationship that will be vital to Australia's Ashes fate this summer. He was delighted to find Johnson flushed with self-belief in both word and deed, and importantly considers the left-armer now capable of bowling in partnerships with others, rather than simply trying to win matches on his own.
"I didn't really go there to work with him, it was more to have a chat with him and watch him bowl in a game and see how everything was going for him," McDermott said of the Perth visit. "I think Mitchell can be bowled in both ways, whether it be impact bowling and that depends on the game situation and who's batting at the time, but I think he can be used in both ways.
"Certainly his control has been very good the past two days, and with the new ball if we can get him swinging that new ball, which he's shown he can do at training, 150km/h inswingers are pretty tough to keep out, and if he only swings the odd one even better, because then the batsman doesn't know which one he has to play at."
Alongside Johnson, Siddle and Harris in the nets at Allan Border Field have been Jackson Bird and James Pattinson, both fast bowlers returning from back stress injuries. Their presence at the bowling crease is an encouraging sign for Australia's future pace endeavours, but McDermott said neither Bird nor Pattinson will be in contention for a Test spot, as he attempts to re-shape their actions to reduce the twisting "counter-rotation" that is a harbinger of back problems.
"Jackson's progressing but he's still been working on some technical things that I'm not 100% happy with at the moment," McDermott said. "So we just want to keep working on those over the coming weeks and certainly don't want to rush him in any shape or form from that point of view.
"Patto's rehab work and the couple of changes that we've made to his technique have come along nicely, he's only off about six steps or so at the moment, so he's got a fair way to go. I'm in no rush for him to be back, he's in his early 20s and can be a 10-year bowler for Australia or more, so I'm not keen to rush him until we've got it exactly right … otherwise I haven't done my job."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here