Strength in depth is something the Australian selectors would dearly love with their batting options. They have in it in spades with the fast bowling, however, and that creates a different problem.
Now it’s about which three to pick for the Gabba. The selectors rotated their fast bowlers with mixed success in England. Heading into the final Test at The Oval they seemed genuinely unsure of their best trio, with Peter Siddle playing ahead of Starc and Pattinson who were both fully fit.
Pattinson, perhaps to his own detriment given his desire to play his first Test on home soil since January 2016, thinks the New South Wales trio of Cummins, Hazlewood, and Starc will line-up in Brisbane.
“I think those three are probably going to get the first look in, realistically,” Pattinson said on Thursday. When probed as to whether the selectors had indicated that to him he responded, “Not really, that’s just my personal opinion.”
The New South Wales trio tuned up for Brisbane by dismantling Western Australia on a slow dry SCG track, the antithesis of what will be presented at the Gabba. The trio took 13 wickets between them on a spin-friendly surface to bowl WA out for 191 and 128. All three were outstanding with a reverse-swinging ball.
They were the trio that secured the Ashes for Australia at Old Trafford, in Starc’s only Test of the campaign, but he was unsure whether they would get the nod together in Brisbane.
“We’ve all said we are here to win games for New South Wales and the rest of it will take care of itself,” Starc said. “For this week it was nice to have everyone back in blue, Patty’s [Cummins] first game and was nice seeing him bowl fast as well. We’ve played a lot of cricket together for New South Wales and Australia and if that’s the way they go in the first Test then great, if not keep pushing for the next one.”
Starc’s form probably makes him the favourite to be named alongside Cummins and Hazlewood, who appear certain starters. After a lean match at the Gabba against Queensland, where he claimed 1 for 129, some remedial work with NSW bowling coach Andre Adams propelled him to a man of the match display against Tasmania at Drummoyne Oval where he took 10 for 60 from 43.2 overs.
He then took eight wickets in six T20Is but stepped back into Shield cricket without missing a beat, claiming 4 for 57 in the second innings against Western Australia with some vicious reverse swing and six wickets in the match
“I’ve just been happy with the rhythm and things I’ve worked on, just to get into a clearer mindset,” Starc said. “The things I worked on coming out of the Gabba Shield game and into Drummoyne I’ve been pretty focused and clear since the Gabba – in the T20s as well – so that’s pretty pleasing. Hopefully having that mindset can carry on through the summer.”
Pattinson’s form in the Sheffield Shield should not be overlooked. He consistently troubled opponents with pace and hostility on three very flat surfaces at the Junction Oval, the WACA and the MCG. He was rested for the game against Tasmania on a bowler-friendly surface in Hobart. He has 11 wickets in four innings thus far this season with two four-wicket hauls but has bowled without luck at times.
The squad mentality has been spoken about at length, with Australia’s hierarchy keen to sell the idea to the fast bowlers to both keep them fresh and extend their careers.
Pattinson spoke last Friday of his desire to play back-to-back Test matches and his envy of the batsmen being able to find form through continuity of playing.
But it seems the bowlers, begrudgingly or not, have accepted their fate that they may not play every game.
“We spoke about the squad mentality during the Ashes and having five fast bowlers again it will be the same thing,” Starc said. “Whether that’s conditions-based, Nes [Neser] bowled really well in that A game from what I’ve heard and Patto has been bowling really nicely. Joshy, Patty and myself are pretty happy with how we’ve been progressing.”
While Pattinson believed he would not play in the first Test he did believe that his opportunity would come depending on conditions.
“I think it’s just a game to game basis, however, they pull up. If I’m just there staying fit and bowling well and putting my name forward, hopefully at some stage I’ll get the nod.”