In announcing a Test squad that includes Nathan Coulter-Nile despite his total lack of recent Sheffield Shield cricket, the selection chairman Rod Marsh made the startling admission Mitchell Starc may have played his last international match of the season.
Starc's broken foot and ankle spurs were thought to have a recovery time frame allowing him to make February's New Zealand tour, but Marsh contended that the left-armer would miss that trip and also be doubtful for the World Twenty20 that follows.
"In an ideal world ... we'd love to have Mitchell Starc playing against New Zealand in the Test series [in February]," Marsh said. "I don't think that will happen. In an ideal world we'd like to have him playing in the [Twenty20] world cup. It 'may' happen.
"If it's two different lots of surgery then we mightn't see much of Mitchell for a little while. And you've got to think of the kid's health, and the medical people always keep that in mind. He'll be back when he's back. In the meantime we've got to get on with it.
"I've said, I don't know how many times, that we've got to have a battery of 10 fast bowlers. I know everyone out there looks at me as if I'm an idiot when I say that, but I tell you what, we've got to have a battery of 10 fast bowlers.
"If we come up now with a good attack for this Test match, which we think we have, and for the following two Test matches, and the one after that and the one after that, we'll have called on a lot of fast bowlers. That's one thing I can promise you, because they just don't get through a lot of Test matches in a row."
By way of clarification, Cricket Australia released a statement by the team physio David Beakley, stating that Starc did not require surgery for his current injury: "Given that Mitchell now has a lay-off with his foot injury we will take this opportunity to meet with specialists in Sydney this week to get an opinion on whether or not surgery is required at this point in time for his ongoing ankle issues.
"We will look to provide an update later in the week but at this stage we do not have confirmed timeframes for his return to play."
In addition to Coulter-Nile, the Victoria fast bowler Scott Boland has been named as a standby player in case any of the bowlers struggle to recover after the win over New Zealand in Adelaide. James Pattinson has retained his place in the 12-man squad and is the likely replacement in the XI for Starc.
Coulter-Nile, 28, has been included in the 12 for the Bellerive Test against the West Indies despite not playing any Sheffield Shield matches so far this summer. He played in the Matador Cup but a shoulder injury sidelined him from the start of the Shield season, and he was then suspended from Western Australia's most recent match after showing dissent at an umpire's decision during a Futures League game against Queensland last week. Last summer he underwent surgery for a problematic hamstring.
"Once Mitchell Starc went down I think everyone's mind went straight to Nathan Coulter-Nile," Marsh said. "We've had our eye on him for a long time and we've been very pleased with the way he's gone when he has played but as you all know he's also been a fast bowler who hasn't been injury free and I guess we're at a situation now where because of the two Mitchells, one retiring and one being injured that we do need a bit of pace up front.
"He comes back well. Fresh. He came back very well, fresh in the Australia A series in India earlier this year so we're not too concerned about that. In an ideal world yes, it would have been good if he had been playing Shield cricket the whole season and taken 40 wickets, in an ideal world. But we don't get too many of them so we'll go with our gut feeling on Coulter-Nile, we like him as a bowler."
Coulter-Nile will come into contention for Hobart if any of the fast men succumb to injury or fitness concerns - Hazlewood's heavy workload and a back spasm for Peter Siddle in Adelaide makes this a distinct possibility. That would bring Boland, 26, into the squad. A fast bowler with 71 first-class wickets at 30.14, Boland this summer has 12 wickets at 12.58 from three Shield games, and he picked up a career-best 7 for 31 against Western Australia in the last round.
"It's a really good story him I reckon, the fact he's snuck under the radar," Marsh said of Boland. "He's not necessarily a fashionable bowler, but you remember he kept Siddle out of the Matador Cup, so the Victoria coach David Saker thinks a hell of a lot of him, he's seen a lot of fast bowling in his time. So it's a very pleasant story for a very pleasant young man."
Boland will play for Victoria in their Sheffield Shield game starting this Sunday unless required in the Test squad. The first Test against West Indies begins on Thursday next week.
Test squad David Warner, Joe Burns, Steven Smith (capt), Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland (standby).