Starc returns for final Ashes Test
Left-arm spearhead vaults back into Australia's XI at expense of Tasmania's Jackson Bird
Andrew Ramsey at the SCG
3 January 2018, 05:08 PM AEST
With Mitchell Starc fully recovered and back in Australia's starting XI, the Ashes rivals have opted for contrasting bowling strategies in the final Magellan Ashes Test that begins at the SCG tomorrow.
Starc will replace Jackson Bird in the Australia team after showing he was no longer hampered by the heel bruising that kept him out of the fourth Test in Melbourne last week, as the hosts opted against the inclusion of auxiliary finger spinner Ashton Agar.
While England has also made a solitary change to their line-up for the Ashes finale – allrounder Chris Woakes ruled unavailable due to a slight strain in his left side – they have chosen to punt on spin with uncapped leg-spinner Mason Crane to make his debut.
The disparate selection decisions highlight the absence of form lines on the pitch at the SCG that has not hosted a first-class fixture since last summer and is in the hands of a new curatorial team led by former Adelaide Oval groundsman, Justin Groves.
Prior to his team's final Test training session of the summer today, Australia captain Steve Smith noted the mottled spread of green grass on the SCG pitch as the primary reason why selectors stuck with the three-man pace attack and sole spinner Nathan Lyon.
"I think the wicket's got a fair bit of grass and looks to be a pretty good wicket, so I'd say we'll probably opt for just the one spinner,” Smith said today before Australia finalised their team.
Less than half an hour later when Root fronted for his pre-match media conference, he cited England's initial assessment of the pitch made when they first laid eyes on it on Tuesday afternoon as the point at which they decided on a second spinner.
The subsequent diagnosis of Woakes's injury, which came after the seam-bowling allrounder underwent a scan on his sore side this morning, was therefore an academic exercise as Crane's inclusion was already assured.
"I think once we got here and we saw the surface, that was a clear indication of what team we wanted to go with,” Root said today, in confirming that out-of-form spinner Moeen Ali had also retained his place in a team which has already surrendered the Ashes and trails 0-3.
"It (the SCG pitch) looks like it should give a bit of turn throughout, it generally does here anyway.
"It looks like it's definitely dried out over the course of the last 24 hours and it should generally spin.
"That's why we've gone in with the two spinners, and the leg-spinner in particular could be quite hard work especially later on in the game.”
Groves, who oversees the ground preparations at both the SCG and the adjoining Sydney Football Stadium, indicated that the assessments of both captains could be justified given the appearance of his first Sydney Test pitch.
"It has a slight green tinge to it, and I guess that's what they (Australia) have seen with the three quicks,” he said, noting that warm weather is forecast for Sydney in the coming days.
"But traditionally the SCG does spin later, towards the end of the game, and I guess that's what the English are taking into the game as well.
"We've made it to the traditional SCG pitch.
"It will break up towards the end so the weather does come into it.
"We're very happy with our square at the moment, it's come through the football season very well.
"We've got a very good coverage of grass on the whole square.”
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Ashton Agar.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test MCG, drawn. Scorecard
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21