In light of James Pattinson’s unfortunate and untimely recurrence of stress fractures in his back, there are no limit on the amount of suitors in Australian cricket waiting to be handed the red cherry by the selectors for the first Ashes test next month in Brisbane.
And while the road to selection isn’t full of bedded roses, Pattinson’s injury has opened up a spot in Australia’s fast bowling stocks for that fourth seamer. We consider five contenders for that position to join Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins.
1 Chadd Sayers
Sayers has been among the most consistent bowlers on the domestic circuit the last few seasons and has been waiting his turn for some time now.
Arguably he has been snubbed in favour of the selectors' preference for out-and-out quick bowling but that has not deterred Sayers in the slightest. Standing at only 180cm and bowling at less than 130km/hr, he has been a stand out in the Sheffield Shield the past couple of years, taking 62 wickets in the 2016-17 season at an impeccable average of 19, compared to an equally impressive career record of 229 wickets at an average of 23.
It has been his ability to nip the ball around and swing the ball in the air which has troubled batsmen on countless occasions, and the selectors may want to bring him into the side to see a Dukes ball in his hand in England in 2019.
He recently damaged his finger on the eve of the start of the domestic season and this may see him kept out of action for the next 4-6 weeks. This is a tight time frame with the first test beginning at the end of next month, so Sayers faces a race against fitness. His selection would be well deserved.
2 Nathan Coulter-Nile
Coulter-Nile has been the forgotten seamer of Australian cricket of sorts, mainly because injuries have limited his time on the park.
He missed the entirety of last season with a back injury and returned only in time for the IPL in April. Before the India series. his last ODI was in June 2016 and he had his doubts about returning to the first-class arena.
"I thought long and hard about [giving up first-class cricket] and I ended up trying to give it another crack. After talking to JL (Justin Langer) and a few blokes, I think it'd just be mad to give up the dream at 29" he said.
With injuries to Starc and Hazlewood, Coulter-Nile took the new ball in the first ODI at Chennai and responded with an impactful opening spell, taking three wickets. He went to take ten for the series at an average of 23, including Kohli's scalp three times. He troubled the Indian batsmen with the height of his back-of-a-length deliveries and then set them up with his fuller ones. England's more vulnerable top order could submit to more of the same.
Arguably he still needs more time in terms of match fitness, to prove he can get through a full domestic first-class season first, which may count against him. But with his raw pace and handy lower-order batting, he may well be on the selectors' minds.
3 Peter Siddle
There is definitely no substitute for big game experience, and Siddle has this in spades, a veteran of 62 tests.
A test-match specialist by trade these days, he may have lost a yard of pace since his debut in 2008, but Siddle is much fitter and someone who could be the workhorse of the attack. He can be depended to deliver longer spells while the quicker men take required breaks, which could be more than useful during a warm, tireless Australian summer.
While he hits the 130s regularly, he can still bowl a powerful delivery with his follow through and his ability to generate bounce is underrated. Like Jackson Bird, he has a real focus on the off-stump corridor. He's also capable of coming wide of the crease when he needs to.
He is a real outsider to book an Ashes place though, having last played a test in November 2016 against South Africa at Perth. Early season indications are good with five wickets in two games for Victoria to start the JLT One Day Cup. Appears to be over the worst of his injury problems.
4 Jackson Bird
Bird appears to have been overlooked by the selectors team XI frequently now, through no fault of his own.
The Tasmanian paceman has taken 34 wickets in his eight tests at an average of 27 since debuting for Australia in late 2012. His success has been attributed to his process of bowling a good length line, on or around off-stump, and taking it away from the right-handers.
However, he has been 12th man no less than 20 times in his career, understandably to his frustration as he sits behind the quicker men in the pack. An example of this was the surprise recall of Pat Cummins to the team mid-way through the India test series last year, replacing Bird who was already in the touring squad.
Similarly, Stephen O'Keefe's last-minute selection for the second test against Bangladesh at Chittagong last month, due to Josh Hazlewood's injury mid-series, again pushed Bird to drinks duties.
He came through bowling 20 overs in the first two matches of the recent JLT Domestic One Day Cup but pulled out of the tournament due to a hamstring injury suffered in the second match against Victoria. He will be available for the Sheffield Shield beginning on 27 October. Given the selectors' fascination with fast bowling, he may, unfortunately, find himself benched again if not completing squad duties.
5 Jason Behrendorff
Behrendorff could be the dark horse selection as he is only just in the process of preparing for his Australian International debut in the first T20I against India at Ranchi.
He can definitely relate to Pattinson, with his own promising career being hampered due to stress fractures in his leg (which ruled him out of last season's Big Bash League) and back.
The 27-year-old has an impressive record in first-class cricket, with 123 wickets at an average of 23, including 46 wickets at an average of 18 across his past two shield seasons. It reflects the time spent out of the game, but his first match back last season yielded 14 wickets, including a record 9-37 against Victoria.
He has the ability to swing the ball and generate movement with his pace, which can get into the mid 140's. In this way he would not be a dissimilar replacement for Starc. As with Coulter-Nile, he might be best served with a full season of domestic cricket first.
Who should replace James Pattinson in the Ashes squad? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
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