Bob Simpson has joined the current coach John Buchanan in supporting Glenn McGrath's push to play in next summer's Ashes series. Despite his age - McGrath will be almost 37 when the first Test starts in November - both Australian mentors are confident fitness and a lack of high-quality match-play will not be problems when England arrive. Ricky Ponting has also chipped in by saying McGrath is "vital" to the team and placed him in the same daunting category as Shane Warne and Brett Lee.
Simpson, a former national player, captain, coach and selector, told the Sydney Morning Herald McGrath's "Rolls-Royce action and rhythm" would continue to support him. "He doesn't need the explosive pace to perform," Simpson said. "I don't think fitness will be an issue for him, so if his attitude is where it needs to be I have no doubt he will play on. If he wants to play he should be given every opportunity."
McGrath has not bowled since pulling out of the VB Series to be with his family while his wife Jane has cancer treatment. He ruled himself out of the South Africa and Bangladesh tours and aims to come back in October's Champions Trophy before his Ashes Test return.
Buchanan, who often disagrees with his predecessor Simpson, was confident McGrath would add to his 542 Test wickets. "You only have to look at Glenn's figures to say he's always a viable option," Buchanan told the paper. "But obviously from his point of view there are a lot of family issues that need to be sorted out first. I guess we all wait and hope that it works itself out, and if it does then I'm sure you'll see Glenn McGrath striding in and adding to that tally."
Ponting said it would not be a big ask for McGrath to make the Ashes series. "The big problem that he's had is coming back to international cricket when he's had a big break," he said. "If he wants to be a part of the Ashes tour then I know he'll work exceptionally hard whenever he gets the chance and he'll do as much bowling as he can.
"We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope he is around. We all saw how much we missed him in a couple of Tests in England."
Australia are looking for a three-match replacement for McGrath and this weekend will be crucial for the contenders playing in the Pura Cup. Michael Kasprowicz, Jason Gillespie and Shaun Tait have chances to impress before the selectors name the Test squad early next week while Ponting added Victoria's Shane Harwood to the list.
Ponting will speak to the on-duty selector Andrew Hilditch and Phil Jaques, who has faced each bowler in the domestic competitions this year, before the outfit is announced. "Australian cricket has been lucky we've had the bowlers of Warne's and McGrath's and Gillespie's calibre over the last almost ten years," Ponting said. "You know what you are going to get when you throw them the ball. That's always going to change and what we're obviously after now is to get guys to step into their shoes and do the job."
The current one-day attack has opportunities at Cape Town tonight and in Port Elizabeth on Sunday. The side should be boosted by the return of Stuart Clark after it struggled to counter the trouble caused by Graeme Smith's century at Centurion. "I really see it as just a bit of fine-tuning, and that's what we've got to try and work on in the next couple of days," Buchanan said. "It's about the key deliveries that each of those bowlers might have."