It may have been a controversial decision at the time, but the resting of fast bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood earlier this year has them on track to play all six Test matches this summer, according to coach Darren Lehmann.
Starc and Hazlewood were not sent to South Africa in late September for Australia’s limited-overs series, instead ordered to rest and recover after a gruelling tour of Sri Lanka over the winter.
Those plans were derailed for Starc when the left-armer sustained a gruesome cut to his leg in a fielding mishap and had to race the clock to be fit for the first Test against the Proteas in Perth.
But for Hazlewood, he spent the extended break in the gym and gradually building his bowling workloads to prime his body for the rigours of a full summer of international cricket.
While Australia lost the ODI series 5-0 in South Africa without their premier new-ball duo, and the recent Commonwealth Bank Test series against the Proteas, Hazlewood was the leading wicket-taker in the Tests with 17 at 22.05 runs apiece, while Starc captured 14 scalps and was back to his rapid best by series end.
Cricket Australia copped a lot of flak for resting the NSW duo for the ODI tour, but that won’t happen again anytime soon with both Starc and Hazlewood named in Australia’s 14-man squad to face New Zealand in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy series, which starts on Sunday in Sydney.
Lehmann confirmed the pair will play in the three-match ODI series "at some stage" and says the rest ahead of the recently concluded Test matches has meant they should get through the summer without needing another lay-off.
"We gave them (Starc and Hazlewood) a break so they should get through the summer, but we got in trouble for that," Lehmann said. "You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
"There’s so much cricket all year round, do you learn your lesson along the way? You do.
"As long as they’re fresh and going OK there’s no problem playing them (in the ODI series against NZ).
"The advantage of them not going to South Africa is that Hazlewood is as fresh as a daisy.
"He’s going really well and bowled the best he as in the past couple of summers in this series.
"To get a world-class player like Hashim Amla out five times it was pretty special.
"For him, and doing the rehab and making sure he’s strong was important for him and Starc."
While Starc and Hazlewood fired with the red ball this past month, Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis was in no doubt that their absence from the preceding ODI series played a role in the tourists' 2-1 series win in the Tests.
Speaking after South Africa wrapped up the series in Hobart, du Plessis said the 5-0 series sweep on home soil gave his side plenty of momentum going into the Tests.
"I definitely think so, it is important that even if it is different formats, we came across here with confidence," he said.
"We did expect a really tough challenge because it is a different team and a full strength team and with two key players in Starc and Hazlewood.
"Not facing them is much better than facing them. The confidence of winning 5-0 has helped us a lot."
Following the three 50-over contests against the Black Caps, Australia will take on Pakistan in three Test matches and then five one-dayers, before flying to New Zealand for three ODIs. The squad will then split; those involved in the four-match Test tour of India will either heading to Dubai or the subcontinent, while the short-form specialists will be involved in three T20 internationals against Sri Lanka in February.
Despite the jam-packed schedule, Lehmann is confident his star fast bowlers will be able to play for their country when selected this summer, especially given two of the three Tests against the Proteas didn't last the distance.
"A day off helps us in (the lead up to) the three one-dayers, so they should be fine there,” Lehmann said of the four-day Test in Adelaide.
"And a day-night Test in Brisbane (follows the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy), so they should be right to get through the summer.
"It’s a pretty important summer as we know. They’ve led our attack very well and stood up for us, which is great."
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