If recent net sessions are anything to go by, Australia’s pace trio could be even tougher for England’s batsmen to face than Mitchell Johnson was in 2013-14, captain Steven Smith has said. At the Gabba this week, Australia will for the first time field a Test pace attack consisting of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, an exciting state of affairs for Smith, given the promise that all three men have shown over the past few years.
“It has been exciting watching them bowl in the nets,” Smith said on Wednesday. “I think back to 2013-14, when Mitchell was bowling in the nets – these guys are just as nasty, if not more nasty, to be perfectly honest. A couple of the net sessions I have had against Cummins and Starc have been quite scary, so that is really exciting for us.”
Cummins will play his first Test on home soil, and one of the question-marks will be how his body holds up over the course of a five-Test series. After bursting on to the Test scene as a teenager in South Africa in 2011, he has spent much of his career sidelined by injuries, and has still played only 15 first-class matches.
The lack of an allrounder in Australia’s line-up could also mean a significant workload for the three fast men, along with offspinner Nathan Lyon; among the batsmen, only Steven Smith and David Warner could feasibly be used to bowl a few overs, and even that in only very occasional capacities. That could limit Smith’s ability to use his quicks in short, impactful spells as Michael Clarke used Johnson in 2013-14.
“In an ideal world, yeah, that would be how I would like to use them as much as I could,” he said. “I think back to 2013-14, we had the luxury of someone like Shane Watson there, who bowled 15 overs an innings, kept things really tight and gave those guys that little bit of extra rest so Johnson could come on and do what he did.
“We have only got four frontline bowlers here at the moment. At times, I will try to use them in shorter spells, but they are also comfortable bowling a little bit longer. I know that some of them, when they get into rhythm, they like to keep on going and they actually bowl a bit quicker at the back end of their spells.”
The lack of a fifth bowling option will only increase the importance of Lyon, whose provocative comments in the lead-up to the series suggest a man full of confidence. For perhaps the first time in his career, Lyon has not had to deal with speculation about Australia fielding an all-pace attack – hardly surprising, given that over the past year he has taken nearly twice as many Test wickets as any other Australian.
“I think with England, a lot of left-handers, Nathan Lyon is going to be an important bowler for us,” Smith said. “He has been bowling particularly well, he is probably bowling as well as I have seen him bowl. I think he has grown in confidence a lot over the last year, even in the way he talks to me out in the field, he is willing to throw out suggestions, come over the wicket to a left-hander – things that he probably wasn’t comfortable doing just over a year ago.
“I think he has grown in confidence a lot in his place around the team, in his ability, the way he is bowling. And the consistency he is bowling with is really good for us. I am excited; I think he bowls really well on wickets that bounce a bit, something like out there at the Gabba. I think he had a lot of success last time against England in the game out here.”
Not surprisingly, Cricket Australia scheduled the first Test at the Gabba after last year’s experiment of starting the summer at the WACA, where South Africa secured a 177-run win. By comparison, Australia have not lost a Test at the Gabba since the heyday of West Indies, who beat Allan Border’s men at the venue in 1988.
“We know these grounds like the back of our hands,” Smith said. “The Gabba has been a fortress for Australia cricket for a long period of time, and no doubt it is important that we start really well in this first Test match here.”