Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Ten-man Aussies triumph but allrounder search re-emerges
Captain Paine breaks down how he managed his star pace pair without Hazlewood as thoughts turn to a new combination for Boxing Day Test
Andrew Ramsey at Perth Stadium
16 December 2019, 07:51 AM AEST
Tim Paine remembers clearly the first thought that came to him when he saw his new-ball bowler Josh Hazlewood ease to a halt mid run-up during his second over of the first Domain Test against New Zealand, and then gravely retrieve his Baggy Green Cap from umpire Nigel Llong.
Even before Hazlewood, anguish etched on his tanned face, passed his skipper on the way to the Australia dressing room, Paine knew he would be without his strike weapon some time, possibly the remainder of the match.
Perhaps even the rest of the three-Test series against the world's second-ranked team.
"I thought 'gee, I wish we had an allrounder," Paine said on Sunday night, as the knowledge that Hazlewood would be sidelined from at least the upcoming Boxing Day Test with a hamstring strain was mitigated by Australia's 296-run win with a day to spare in Perth.
Once the knee-jerk regret – that the national selection panel had not thought to include an auxiliary seam bowler-cum batter in the XI lest one of the specialists get hurt – had subsided, Paine and his brains trust set about strategising how that on-field crisis might be best managed.
Not that Paine seriously thought there should have been an allrounder in the ranks.
It was a tongue-in-cheek show of retrospective wisdom, and the Australia captain confirmed his surprise that Hazlewood had sustained the injury so early in the contest because he has been in such flawless fettle since recovering from a back stress-fracture earlier this year.
But as the severity of the 28-year-old's injury became clearer, so the revised battle plan quickly came together against the backdrop of forecast 40c days that would take an even heavier toll on remaining quicks Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins along with principal spinner Nathan Lyon.
"I know that Starcy and Pat and Josh are great athletes, so I knew we could handle the load particularly when we have Nathan in our side who can bowl lots of overs," Paine said on Sunday evening.
"I think Marnus (Labuschagne) coming in and playing in our side also gives us another option which is lucky, and I think Wadey (occasional seamer Matthew Wade) is not too bad either.
"The conversation was around making sure we had those two big boys (Starc and Cummins) fresh come five- down in (New Zealand's) second innings.
"And I thought we managed it really well, so that when we were bowling to their tail they still had a bit of energy and speed up their sleeves."
Identifying the imperative to keep a couple of quick bowlers with fuel in their tanks for the final surge to victory was the simplest part of the re-drafted blueprint.
Managing the minimised bowling stocks in practice was the more challenging item, and it was achieved by the nuanced use of bowlers who would not normally figure in Paine's planning.
Wade was introduced as a surprise second-change seamer when the pink ball was comparatively new on Friday evening, and Labuschagne's leg-spin claimed a wicket when it was considerably older the following afternoon.
And in the Black Caps' second innings on Sunday, part-time off-spinner Travis Head was called into the attack ahead of Labuschagne, and the five overs he sent down helped provide valuable respite for the "big boys" in the searing heat of the day.
"We thought we could still get the job done with those conditions in our favour, with Nathan in our side and not have to flog them to death," Paine said of his pace pair who ultimately shared 12 of the 20 NZ wickets to fall.
"They are obviously hugely valuable for the rest of this series, and in all three formats for Australia.
"We wanted to make sure we managed them correctly and didn't ruin their series and when you've got 'Lyno' in your side, it makes it a hell of a lot easier."
That's not to say the allrounder question won't be raised when the selection panel – chair Trevor Hohns, men's team coach Justin Langer and new appointee George Bailey (initially in an advisory role) – convene to chat about possible additions to the existing squad for the Boxing Day and New Year Tests.
The need for additions to the current 12-man squad (excluding Hazlewood) will be explored once the panel has a clearer idea of the pitch conditions that might await at the MCG and SCG for the final two Tests.
But Hohns has already foreshadowed that the allrounder Paine retrospectively wished for might materialise come the summer's final Test in Sydney.
And Langer suggested on Sunday that it might even become a factor in deciding the playing XI for Melbourne, where the notion of deploying four specialist fast bowlers as well as spinner Lyon could be considered if the MCG pitch looks as benign as those rolled out for recent Boxing Day Tests.
"We'll think about it, we'll have a look at it," Langer told Channel Seven on Sunday when asked whether an allrounder was in his thinking for Melbourne.
"If the wicket's like it's been in the last few years, we might even be able to play four quicks and a spinner.
"There's lots of combinations, and it's nice to see Marnus and Travis Head bowling … that gives us a good combination as well."
Langer also noted that a genuine allrounder might not be needed, such are the batting capabilities of specialist bowlers and incumbent Test squad members Michael Neser and James Pattinson, and even Cummins and Starc.
But while Paine – who is not part of the selection panel but is consulted about the final make-up of any squad he leads – acknowledged that all options remained on the table, plucking an allrounder who can slot directly into a Test match is not as straightforward as inking a name on the team sheet.
As Australia's ongoing and often fruitless search over past decades has confirmed, unearthing a Test-standard middle-order batter who can also take wickets and restrict scoring with the ball is seen as something of a grail-like quest.
Paine said he believed sufficient was being done to identify and cultivate allrounders in the Australia domestic ranks and there were options available, even if contenders such as Western Australia pair Mitchell Marsh and Cameron Green have been unable bowl of late due to injury.
"Mitch Marsh is injured, there's Marcus Stoinis and Green in WA, (Moises) Henriques is playing very, very well for New South Wales," Paine observed.
"I don't think there's too much more we can do.
"You can't force kids to bat and bowl growing up.
"We have some guys there who can certainly fill the role, the four I mentioned are all quality cricketers although Green is a little younger.
"But he's someone who's got a really bright future, and the other three we've seen at international level and they've done well at individual times."
However, to suggest any of them might be ready and able to slot straight into a Test team that's completed three thumping wins in recent weeks, at a time when the domestic first-class competition goes into hiatus for the KFC Big Bash League, might be expecting just a little too much.
Or, as Paine found on Friday evening at Perth Stadium as the best-laid plans limped off the field with Josh Hazlewood, it could be wishful thinking.
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
New Zealand: Todd Astle, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson (c)
First Test: Australia won by 296 runs in Perth
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)