The luxury of having a fully fit squad of 15 players from which to select their first XI continues to elude Australia now that fast bowler Pat Cummins is under an injury cloud ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup match against Afghanistan in Perth.
Cummins suffered soreness in his left side in the wake of his team’s one-wicket loss to New Zealand which was formally diagnosed as a “niggle” today, with medical staff to monitor his progress before ruling on his availability for Wednesday’s game and Saturday’s showdown with Sri Lanka in Sydney.
Quick Single: Cummins under injury cloud for Afghanistan clash
The Cummins setback intersected with the completion of all-rounder James Faulkner’s recovery from a similar, albeit more serious injury that should see him declared fit and ready to return for his first match of the campaign this week.
Captain Clarke talking tactics with young gun Cummins // Getty Images
Faulkner, who sustained his injury at the WACA a month ago in the final of the Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series against England, bowled a required spell of six overs in the nets today and provided he feels no ill effects from the session hopes to return to the starting line-up on Wednesday.
“If I get through today I am available for selection,” Faulkner said prior to today’s optional team training session that was attended by a majority of Australia’s 15-man squad.
“I bowled a couple of overs (last week and was) pretty close, the difference is the intensity of an ODI.
“I will have a solid hit out today and hopefully I recover well and be out here (at the WACA) on Wednesday afternoon.
“I was batting five or six days after the injury and they (the Australia brainstrust) told me to ease back on it.
“In the first two weeks I was pretty much going 100 per cent (batting) which was a good thing.
“I think I was lucky being a left arm bowler and a right arm batsman, it wasn’t the same side (bearing the strain) when I was batting.”
Faulkner dismissed the notion he could be included in the team as a specialist batsman given his remarkable ability to finish off innings with the bat, and claimed that if he was passed fit for selection it would be as an allrounder.
Which creates an interesting dilemma for the national selection panel, particularly in light of the doubt that has arisen over Cummins.
Hazlewood and Cummins during the Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series // Getty Images
It would appear that Josh Hazlewood, who played in Australia’s opening game of the tournament against England at the MCG, would be a straight swap for Cummins if the younger paceman was ruled out.
But with Faulkner pushing for inclusion, there is the potential that he could come in as a replacement for Cummins and that Australia might opt for two specialist quicks as well as seam-bowling allrounders Mitchell Marsh, Shane Watson and Faulkner against the Afghans.
“I'm not too sure what they want to go in with, that's purely up to the selectors,” Faulkner said today.
“All I can control is about getting back out on the park and giving myself a chance of playing again.
“The rest isn’t my job and it's not for me to worry about. That's their decision at the end of the day.”
Another scenario is that Hazlewood plays alongside fellow quicks Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson and one of the allrounders – perhaps Watson or off-spinner Glenn Maxwell – makes away for Faulkner.
Ready. Aim. Fire! Watson at training with the Aussie squad // Getty Images
But the removal of Watson or Maxwell would impact on the number of top-order batsmen and there would be a reluctance to push down that path given the poor batting performance against NZ on Saturday, the lack of match practice for skipper Michael Clarke and Steve Smith’s sudden struggle to post a score.
Smith, the stand-out player of the Australian summer in both Test and limited-overs formats prior to the World Cup starting, has managed scores of four and five in his two fully-fledged international outings of the past month.
Johnson was absent from today’s session with Starc – the bowling hero of Australia’s narrow loss in Auckland – opting to walk laps of the WACA rather than engage in nets training.
The Afghanistan team, under coach Andy Moles, held a lengthy training session at the WACA today and their pace bowlers were enjoying the bounce and seam movement they were able to generate in the nets.
The Australians will hold their major training session tomorrow before flying to Sydney on Thursday to prepare for their crucial group match against Sri Lanka at the SCG.
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