How deep are Australia’s fast bowling stocks?

The retirement of Mitchell Johnson and foot injury sustained to Mitchell Starc has again led to the question, how deep is Australia’s fast bowling depth?

Fast bowling cartel - Cricket Australia
Photo Credit: Cricket Australia/Getty Images.

We keep getting told how much fast bowling depth there is in Australia. We’re told that they could field as many as twenty different seamers and still remain competitive in international cricket – but are the fast bowling stocks quite as strong as they once were?

This year’s retirements to former spearhead’s Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson has taken away not just experience (100 Tests) and quality (426 wickets), but it’s also significantly weakened the depth in fast bowling across the country. Throw in the metatarsal injury sustained by Mitchell Starc during the recent Test against New Zealand, along with a host of injuries currently facing other potential candidates, and it begins to become a cause for concern.

The injury picked up by Starc during the first innings in Adelaide is as much, if not more, frustrating for the selectors than the timing of Johnson’s retirement following the previous Test in Perth. Starc had this summer, started to become the Test bowler his rich promise has previously suggested he was capable of becoming. In outbowling fellow left-armer Johnson during his, at times, rapid spells at the Gabba and the WACA, he had taken over as the bowling attack’s spearhead and was bowling better than ever before injury prematurely ended his home summer with 13 wickets at 23.23.

Starc, 25, is now targeting the tour of New Zealand in February as a realistic return date. The prolonged rest should, at least, allow him to freshen up after a tough year battling a recurring ankle problem.

All the signs currently point towards James Pattinson replacing Starc for next week’s first Test against the West Indies in Hobart. But, while, on the surface the bowling depth looks exciting and plentiful, scratch a little deeper and the cracks begin to appear.

Quite literally, you could find cracks or fractures or strains, as it appears more young Australian quick bowlers are currently gracing the treatment table instead of the firing on the field.

Producing the fast bowlers has been the easy part for Australia, keeping them injury-free hasn’t. In the past few years most of their young quicks have become even more susceptible to injury than an Arsenal footballer.

With the squad for next week’s first Test due to be announced on Tuesday morning, it will be interesting to see who stands where in the fast-bowling cartel. Certainly plenty of mulling over awaits Rod Marsh and his fellow selectors Darren Lehmann, Mark Waugh and Trevor Hohns.

If there’s one thing that we already know it’s that Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle will be taking up two, of the expected three, fast bowling berths set to be available alongside Nathan Lyon and allrounder Mitchell Marsh.

Hazlewood, 24, produced the goods when it mattered most for Australia at the Adelaide Oval. His innings (6-70) and match (9-136) figures were both career best’s, but it was the way in which he took over as the leader of the attack in the absence of Johnson and Starc that really highlighted his value to the current setup. However, on the downside, his workload (He bowled 119 overs during the series) is already being questioned just three Tests into the summer, this follows on from a hectic year since he debuted against India last December.

Unable to get into the Australian side just a few months ago (not forgetting the Victoria side during the Matador Cup), Siddle, 31, is fast becoming a valuable commodity among the bowling stocks. His ability to retain pressure is a quality not withstanding many of his counterparts and Hazlewood could do well to buy his mate a beer after he contributed heavily in earning the New South Welshman many of his nine wickets.

Despite complaining of a slightly sore back during the match, in which he claimed his 200th Test victim, Siddle should be deemed fit enough to face the Hobart Test. But alongside the aforementioned duo and a fit again Starc, how far does the bowling depth stretch in Australia? Here’s a look at the likely next in line.

 

James Pattinson (Age 25) Tests: 13 (51 wickets at 27.07)

His Test record is solid, his injury record less so. Since playing his last Test match in South Africa back in March 2014, a host of injuries have limited him to just four first-class matches for Victoria.

Among those setbacks were two serious back injuries sustained within the space of 10 months following the 2013 Ashes in England. Deterred by back complains and determined to correct his action, from front to side-on, he in turn injured his hamstring.

But injuries are nothing new for Pattinson. In November 2012, a year after making his Test debut, he suffered a rib injury so severe that, for a while, he was unable to breathe properly.

Despite all of this, he has fought his way back this summer, with the new action in tow. He has Impressed enough in both the Matador Cup and Sheffield Shield, to receive another opportunity in the wake of Johnson’s retirement.

 

Nathan Coulter-Nile (28)

Coulter-Nile could soon become just the second “double-barrelled” name to represent Australia in Test cricket since Chuck Fleetwood-Smith was handed Baggy Green number 153 in 1935.

Despite averaging a solid 28.97 with the ball across his 35 first-class fixtures, he’s only been used as a limited overs specialist for his country thus far, impressing in a smattering of ODI appearances. However, like most before him, he has suffered his fair share of injuries.

Plagued mainly by hamstring injures over the past couple of years, it’s in fact a shoulder injury which has kept him out of any Shield cricket so far this summer. He has also recently suffered the raff of the match referee – missing Western Australia’s latest fixture for his troubles – this indiscipline could cost him a place in the squad for Hobart next week.

 

Jackson Bird (28) Tests: 3 (13 wickets at 23.30)

Despite playing his last Test during the 2013 Ashes tour of England, Bird, unsurprisingly another man who has regularly struggled with injuries, could be set to benefit from the misfortune of others and gain a place in next week’s squad.

Rumours are suggesting that Bird’s previous Test experience and solid recent form could give him the nod ahead of Coulter-Nile as he seeks to revive his fledgling international career.

This summer tally of 18 wickets at 24.77, including a timely 5-69 against South Australia this week, his first five-wicket haul in 18 months, have certainly reminded the selectors of his worth as a third seamer. Recent English experience, where he took 19 wickets at 39.73 during an injury-marred spell for Hampshire this winter, could also count in his favour.

Jackson Bird Getty images
Jackson Bird in Sheffield Shield action for Tasmania. Photo Credit: ESPNcricinfo/Getty Images

Pat Cummins (22) Tests: 1 (7 wickets at 16.71)  

It’s easy to forget that Cummins is still only 22-years-old. Four years after taking 7-117 during a man-of-the-match winning debut in Johannesburg, he’s yet to play another Test.

That his crooked body has allowed him to play just eight first-class matches in his near five-year long career tells its own story. Currently back in rehabilitation with an early stage lumbar bone stress fracture sustained during a rare period on the park in England, he is expected to miss the entire summer.

But like Pattinson, who incidentally debuted a Test later, missing a home summer is nothing new for the youngster. He hasn’t played a Sheffield Shield match since suffering a stress fracture in the final back in March 2011.

Since then the injuries have stacked up. Soon after his Test debut, he suffered a stress fracture of the foot, before another back stress fracture put pay to his 2012 summer. After initially recovering from that injury, it again flared up during an A tour of South Africa in August 2013.

However, after contributing to the World Cup success in March, it seemed he had finally turned a corner, before the back finally gave in once more. He may well have to follow Pattinson’s suit and change his action before it all becomes too late.

 

James Faulkner (25) Tests: 1 (6 wickets at 16.33)

A limited-overs regular, Faulkner was called into the squad to tour Bangladesh after the injury to Cummins, but with that tour postponed he hasn’t yet had chance to add to his one Test appearance, earned more than two years ago. A none-too-serious toe injury, relating to a knee complaint, kept him out of Tasmania’s recent Shield fixture but a quick return is expected.

An allrounder in many senses, he has impressive first-class bowling (179 wickets at 23.97) and batting (2202 runs at 31.01) figures. Like Bird, he also gained valuable overseas experience with Lancashire over the winter.

Should Mitchell Marsh continue to blow hot and cold as the Test allrounder then expect him to challenge Moises Henriques for the a place in the side. Without Johnson and Starc, his left arm option could add variety to the current predominantly right-armed attack.

 

Jason Behrendorff (25)

Like Coulter-Nile, left-armer Behrendorff is another member of the strong current Western Australia fast-bowling cartel. But like his state teammate he has also struggled with injuries so far this summer, restricting his Shield appearances to just two.

A contributor across all formats, he currently averages 25.22 with the ball in first-class cricket, and has recently gained the backing of former Australian players Dirk Nannes and Michael Slater – who both believe he is a serious contender for one of the vacant Test berths.

After a strong start to last summer, his bowling was brought to an abrupt and premature end when he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in the right side of his lower back, whilst playing for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash in early February.

When back to full-fitness he will certainly remain on the periphery of national honours as shown by his selections for both the Prime Minister’s and Cricket Australia XI’s recently.

With Starc out injured, expect a limited over call up once India arrive in January – at the very least.

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Jason Behrendorff has erned high praise in recent months. Photo Credit: ESPNcricinfo/Getty Images.

Andrew Fekete (30)

The 30-year-old was called up from the relatively unknown for October’s subsequently postponed tour of Bangladesh, leading to many newspapers running the headline: “Who the Fek is he?”

Good question. His call up for that tour was on the back of a stellar Sheffield Shield season for Tasmania last summer – where he finished with 34 wickets at 24. He followed this up with an impressive showing during the A tour of India over the winter.

After the disappointment of not boarding a plane to Bangladesh, his form has tailed away dramatically. Despite a steady Matador Cup, his early season Shield form has underwhelmed massively. Dropped after two poor performances, he was lucky to earn a recallafter Faulkner went down injured last week. Unfortunatly he again underperformed, going at well over five-an-over during his 4-151 in South Australia’s massive 7-600d.

Although picked for the Bangladesh tour as a subcontinent specialist, he was never a realist contender for a Test berth in home conditions. With younger and quicker men seemingly ahead of him, it appears his dreams of a Baggy Green could well be fading into obscurity.

Also worthy of a mention: Gurinder Sandhu (New South Wales), Chadd Sayers (South Australia), Scott Boland (Victoria). 

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