Pace puzzle gets tricky for Australia selectors
Selectors have plenty to ponder ahead of Thursday's first Ashes Test as the makeup of Australia's XI remains an unknown
Sam Ferris in Birmingham
29 July 2019, 12:05 PM AEST
Now that Australia's Ashes squad has been picked, the next puzzle national selectors must solve is squeezing 17 players into 11 spots for the first Test in Birmingham which starts Thursday.
And there is perhaps no bigger conundrum in front of the selectors than how they decide which of the six fast bowlers in the squad take the field at Edgbaston.
From the sextet of Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Michael Neser only three will likely make the XI, with Cummins the only absolute lock to play.
Hazlewood has been one of the first picked when fit and healthy but given he hasn't played a Test match since suffering a back injury in January and the red-hot form of Victorian pair Pattinson and Siddle, the right-armer is no certainty for the opening Test.
However, with five Tests and two three-day tour games crammed into a little more than six weeks, Hazlewood and his fellow quicks are expecting to be rotated through the series.
"I think the (fast bowlers) are happy to play it by ear a little bit, obviously depending on how much we bowl per Test," Hazlewood said in Birmingham.
"You can’t look too far ahead I think. You can map certain things out if things happen, but you’ve got to play it by ear I think with Test cricket.
"You might get away with a Test with 30 overs under your belt which is fine. It’s when it goes up to 45 to 50 that you start to reassess things and look at different options.
"There’s six quicks here, which is great, so more than happy to rotate or conditions picking those bowlers, we’ll see how we go."
The log-jammed tour schedule, fierce competition for spots and his own medical history has Hazlewood realistic about his chances of playing in all five Test matches.
The 28-year-old played the first four Tests of the 2015 Ashes tour before succumbing to injury and has spent time on the sidelines in the past 18 months with back issues.
It is why he would be content with featuring in as little as three Tests this campaign if it best suits the team.
"I think it would be a very good effort to play all five, especially with my last two years, I’ve missed a few Tests with injury," he said
"I’d be really happy with four (Tests), three or four even.
"It’s such a tight schedule. Five would be great if we got away with a couple of cheap innings, bowling 30 (overs) for the Test or something like that, it’d be great."
Barring injury, there is one bowler set to play in all five Tests and Hazlewood would not mind being in his position.
"I'd like to be Nathan Lyon, you know you're playing with only one spinner here," Hazlewood joked.
"We can all work together. It will be interesting to see first Test and we'll take it from there."
While Australia's bowling unit has been pulled from three different states, they are no strangers to each other.
Take Hazlewood and Pattinson, who played four Tests together in the 2015-16 summer at home and in New Zealand which culminated in Australia being crowned the No.1 Test team in the world.
But those Tests weren't the first time the pair played in the same Australian side, that came at the Under-19 World Cup in 2008 in Malaysia, where Australia finished sixth.
But their origin story stretches back even further than the youth World Cup and Hazlewood remembers it like it was yesterday.
"We played Victoria Under-17s match in Brisbane," Hazlewood said.
"'Patto' opened the bowling for them and myself and 'Starcy' opened the bowling for NSW.
"That's over 10 years ago. We've certainly played a lot of cricket against and with each other. It's been fantastic."
While Hazlewood has formed a close bond with the NSW Blues trio of Starc, Cummins and Lyon – the quartet who have been the first-choice Test attack in recent years - the right-armer says he would have no problem bowling alongside the squad's other quicks should new combinations be selected in the Ashes.
"We all know each other, we train a lot with each other whether it’s Pattinson, Siddle or Michael Neser," he said.
"We know each other pretty well and I guess the only way to get to know them more is by playing with them.
"I’ve played with 'Patto' a fair bit now over the years so I know his ins and outs and what makes him tick on the field. Peter Siddle the same.
"I don’t think it matters who is going to play, we all know each other really well."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval