Starc expected to be fit for Boxing Day but Hazlewood remains unlikely

Starc had twinged his ribs while batting in Adelaide, while Hazlewood's fitness is an unknown as he flies into Melbourne on Thursday

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Mitchell Starc is expected to be fit for Boxing Day despite suffering a twinge in his ribs while batting in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide but Josh Hazlewood's fitness is an unknown as he is due to arrive in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon.
Starc was in obvious discomfort while batting in the second innings after an attempted slog-sweep caused a sharp jab of pain in his ribs. But he bowled without issue or complaint in the fourth innings delivering 27 overs and taking the key wickets of Joe Root and Ollie Pope to help Australia claim victory.
Hazlewood missed the second Test due to a side strain he suffered during the first Test in Brisbane. He flew home to Sydney for a week but is rejoining the squad in Melbourne after they had three days off post the win in Adelaide.
Pat Cummins is a lock to return after missing the Adelaide Test due to being a close contact of a Covid case, while Victoria fast bowler Scott Boland has been formally added to Australia's squad having been flown in as cover in Adelaide.
Australia coach Justin Langer was confident Starc would be fine for Boxing Day but was unsure about Hazelwood's prospects.
"It's just [Starc's] rib actually," Langer said. "A lot of the bowlers talk about when they come back to Test cricket, bowl more overs, they jam down on that rib area so he should be fine. He's tough.
"If he's not right, then we'll look at it. But at this stage, there's no indication suggesting he won't be playing the next Test. We will wait and see how Josh Hazlewood pulls up, he arrives this afternoon."
Langer was delighted with Starc's performance in Adelaide as the leader of Australia's attack in the absence of Cummins and Hazlewood echoing the thoughts of Australia's stand-in captain Steven Smith.
"I honestly thought Mitch Starc was almost the man of the match last game," he said. "There's been a lot of talk about Mitch Starc for the last few years but he just keeps turning up. He's an unbelievable athlete. He's incredibly fit.
"His resilience to just keep coming up over and over and over again is remarkable really, and his consistency of length and the way he controlled the tempo of the game last game was a great credit to him, particularly with Patty and Josh Hazlewood not playing.
"He became the leader of the group. He did a fantastic job. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't get up for Boxing Day."
Boland's addition to the squad has raised the prospect of Australia picking another debutant given the Victorian's record at the MCG. On a surface that has traditionally been incredibly flat and docile through his 10-year first-class career, Boland has taken 96 wickets at 25.56 with four five-wicket hauls. His latest came in his only game there this year on one of the liveliest MCG tracks he had ever bowled on where he claimed match figures of 8 for 89 against New South Wales. But Langer said Boland's call-up was mainly as cover given the tight turnaround between Tests.
"It's more precautionary than anything else. That said he's a terrific bowler and he's had an awesome domestic couple of years. If he gets the opportunity like Michael Neser last game, he will certainly deserve that."
If Hazlewood doesn't play and Starc is fit then Australia will be forced to leave one of Jhye Richardson or Michael Neser out. Both bowled well and took important wickets in both innings, with Richardson claiming his maiden Test five-wicket haul.
"Undecided at this stage," Langer said. "Both Michael and Jhye did a great job in the last Test match. We'll just wait and see how they pull up.
"It's a tough series. We all know that. Five Test matches pretty much in a row. So we'll just manage our bowlers as best we can and we'll put our fittest and most ready to perform out in the park in Melbourne."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo