Will Australia rebuild their bowling attack?
Ahead of their Northampton game, Michael Hussey explains how the tourists have reacted to Kevin Pietersen's withdrawal from the Ashes – and how they can find their missing bite
Friday 24 July 2009
Andy Flower may think he has problems, but he is far from alone. Beginning in Northampton today, Australia have three days to sort out an attack that was embarrassingly shredded by England at Lord's.
The tourists' camp has been bolstered by the news of Kevin Pietersen's Ashes exit, but they are all too aware of their own failings. For a start they have injury worries of their own. While Pietersen recovers from surgery to his Achilles tendon, Brett Lee's abdominal tear looks likely to rule him out of the third Test, which begins at Edgbaston next Thursday. His recovery is "a work in progress", but Lee will play no part against Northamptonshire and it would be a surprise if Australia picked him for a Test with no proof that he is fit to bowl a full allocation of overs.
Instead, Australia will pin their hopes of bouncing back from defeat at Lord's on Mitchell Johnson rediscovering his rhythm and accuracy after working closely with their former England bowling coach, Troy Cooley, or that Stuart Clark makes a compelling case to be recalled.
"Mitchell and Troy are very clear on what they need to work on and he was working pretty hard today," the stand-in captain, Michael Hussey, said. Hussey will lead the tourists against the Second Division side, with Ricky Ponting and vice-captain Michael Clarke both rested. "Hopefully, he can go into the game in a good frame of mind and get his confidence right up for the next Test," Hussey added.
Australia will rest one of Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus in order to accommodate Clark and also give a break to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, whose performance behind the stumps at Lord's attracted criticism. Shane Watson, mooted as a potential stand-in opener, gets a chance to put pressure on Phillip Hughes, whose form has been another major worry.
"We have not spoken about Pietersen too much but [his injury] is certainly a boost for us because he is a quality player," Hussey said. "It is going to be a big loss to England, although I would not go so far as to say it makes England any easier to beat. I don't necessarily think that one player is going to determine whether you win or lose a series. But Pietersen is probably the linchpin in their batting order and not having him there has got to be a plus for us."
Hussey dismissed suggestions that Ian Bell, Pietersen's probable replacement who struggled in the 2005 Ashes, would be a softer opponent. "I wouldn't like to say that, because in cricket these things have a habit of coming back and biting you. Ian Bell is a quality player who has done well for England before and we will give him the same respect we give every England player."
Who could come in? And who would make way?
Ruled out by an elbow injury from both of Australia's series against South Africa, Clark did little wrong in the warm-up games. Was their outstanding bowler in the 2006-07 Ashes and a good show here would build a strong case to play at Edgbaston.
The pace bowling all-rounder has fitness issues and has yet to figure in the tour. Picked more for his batting but the opportunity to bowl a few decent overs would only enhance his chances of replacing Phillip Hughes at the top of the batting order.
Australia's biggest concern, the left-armer looked world-class against South Africa earlier in the year but has been out of sorts on this tour, particularly at Lord's. Needs to show he is rediscovering his form or will run a strong risk of being dropped.
The fast right-armer has shown plenty of aggression but not enough consistency in the two Tests so far. Needs to hope that the selectors will be happy to rest Ben Hilfenhaus at Northampton and give him the chance to outbowl Clark and Johnson.
The pick of the Australian attack so far, the Tasmanian swing bowler only just missed out on the honours board after taking four wickets in the first innings at Lord's. His place looks safe and he may need only to carry the drinks at Wantage Road.
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