The Fast And The Dubious: Australia’s new (and old) crop of pacemen
For Australia’s cricketers the season is over, meaning the next wave of tour diaries can’t be too far away. Here at 51allout, however, we’re still busy dissecting the Australian performance of the summer past in an attempt to gauge their rebuilding efforts ahead of next year’s Ashes series. And so, without any further attempt at an introduction, here is the next in our series exploring their work thus far.
There were two consistent highpoints in Australian performances over their summer; Michael Clarke’s captaincy (as we discussed at length in this article) and their fast bowlers. Whilst we see it as our duty to cut through the hyperbole here at 51allout, and suggest that Bill Lawry was, as usual, talking complete crap when he claimed the Australian attack is now the best in the world, we do have to admit that they’re not exactly rubbish anymore either.
In fact Australia’s fast bowling stocks are now one of their main strengths. Indeed, in lieu of the fact that there are so many candidates for a spot in the Australian attack at the moment, we’ve done away with the previous approach of discussing each player at length and instead grouped them together into ‘attacks’. Partly to prevent this article running to Biblical proportions, and partly because our dear editor threatened to cut off our gin supply if he had to, I quote, “read about one more of them illiterate, spiky haired, twats”. He’s a very angry man is our Steve.
The Incumbents: Ryan Harris, Ben Hilfenhaus, Peter Siddle
The triumvirate that currently constitutes Australia’s front line fast bowling attack all represent individual stories of redemption. Both Harris and Hilfenhaus have made successful returns to the Australian setup after injury and poor form threatened to end their international careers prematurely. Harris is still dogged by injury concerns, but has claimed he’s happy to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair as long as he it means he gets a few more years of hurting Test batsman, whilst Hilfenhaus has flourished under Craig McDermott’s tutelage, bowling a higher length and achieving considerably more movement through the air as a result.
The real success story, however, is Siddle. His role in the team prior to this summer was seemingly to bounce tailenders and sledge everyone. When he couldn’t even do that properly anymore he was dropped for the tour of Sri Lanka last year. Reinstated during the tour of South Africa, Siddle found himself as the leader of the inexperienced attack that confronted New Zealand shortly after. He’s responded to this new position of seniority with aplomb, and though he may not get the new ball, he is now the ‘go to man’ in the Australian attack. Whenever Clarke needs a wicket to be taken, he turns to Siddle. And so far he has rarely let his captain down.
The Back-ups: Patrick Cummins, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson
It’s perhaps a little unfair to regard these three bowlers as essentially back up bowlers, as all have already shown they can perform in Test cricket, but whilst those above them keep their form and fitness, that is essentially what they are. Probably the most pleasing aspect from the selector’s perspective is that the two groups are largely interchangeable; Cummins for Harris, Starc for Hilfenhaus, and Pattinson for Siddle, meaning that Australia have a strength in depth of fast bowlers that they haven’t enjoyed in living memory. A good thing too considering the rate at which they are currently breaking down. Or failing to fill out visa applications correctly.
Pattinson and Starc owe their international exposure to the injury crisis that preceded the Australian series against New Zealand. Pattinson took the opportunity with both hands, being named Man of the Match on debut, whilst Starc had to wait until his recall against India in the third and fourth Tests to make his name. Cummin’s story is more curious. Handed his Test debut at age 18, he took seven wickets and hit the winning runs in a Man of the Match performance against South Africa. He then evoked a storm of controversy, on Australian shores at least, when he was rested from the series against the Kiwis with a sore heel and ultimately sat out the rest of the summer. Even at such a young age Cummins has an impressive injury record and the debate over how to best manage his workload will remain a heavily debated topic for a while to come.
The Hopefuls: Ben Cutting, Alister McDermott, Jackson Bird
The three bowlers in this group represent the most promising prospects on the Australian domestic scene. Ben Cutting is perhaps the unluckiest cricketer in the country, narrowly missing out on selection to Starc in the lead up to the first Test against New Zealand, Cutting went back to the Sheffield Shield and did everything that would have been asked of him, taking 36 wickets at 18 runs apiece, and scoring handy runs with the bat as well. A groin injury then robbed him of the chance to further stake his claim in the Shield final, and whilst he is supposedly part of the Kings XI squad in the IPL, he has completely dropped off the radar of late.
Cutting’s unfortunately timed injury handed his Queensland teammate an opportunity to take the limelight for himself, and Alister McDermott did just that, taking seven wickets to round off a season in which he snared 28 in total. At only 20 years of age McDermott has been talked of as a future Test paceman for a few years now, partly, no doubt, because of his lineage, and seems to be developing into a robust fast bowler who can’t be far away from a first Test cap. The final member of this group is the unfashionable Jackson Bird, who left NSW in search of first class cricket and had a breakthrough season last year, being the top wicket-taker in Sheffield Shield with 53 scalps. Having accomplished little else of note in his career to date, Bird will need another bumper season this year to push his way into the selector’s plans.
The Irrelevant: Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger, Trent Copeland
All three of these bowlers have represented Australia on the Test stage within the last 18 months. It’s a good bet than none of them ever will again. Such is the strength of Australia’s fast bowling stocks that even players not yet mentioned in this article, such as Nathan Coulter-Nile, are possibly ahead of them in the pecking order. Although they are probably still ahead of Clint McKay. Which I think is called damning with faint praise.
Of the three the only one who could possibly make a return is Mitchell Johnson, and even then it is likely only as a limited overs specialist. To have a chance of returning to the Test scene Mitchell will need to have a bumper year in the Sheffield Shield, and considering he hasn’t played for his adopted Western Australia since he joined them in 2008, that seems to be a tall order. The other two are probably best served pursuing their prospects in the cash cow that is the IPL, as Test cricket has now passed them by.
Go back even a few years and Australia seemed to have a surplus of promising batsmen ready to step up to the international stage, but a dearth of fast bowling talent. Now the situation has been completely reversed. For those of you who may have read this article in the hope of a good laugh at Australia’s inept efforts to rebuild after its Ashes humiliation, we can only apologize. Make sure you catch the next article in this series though, when we look at their batting. That will be…interesting…to say the least.
Do Australia possess the attack to do what they were unable to during the last Ashes series and consistently put the English top order under real pressure? Yes. However the real challenge lies in making sure that the best bowlers in the country are both fit and in form come next June. The hectic fixture list and recent resignation of Craig McDermott from his post as bowling coach doesn’t bode well for the selectors or backroom staff in being able to meet that challenge however. So best of luck John Inverarity and co. You’re going to need it.