With the Boxing Day test match looming, the biggest event of the Australian home summer, Michael Clarke and the rest of the selectors have an important decision pending. After Peter Siddle’s nine-wicket match haul and Mitchell Starc’s five wickets during Sri Lanka’s second innings in Hobart, the two seamers and the off-spinner Nathan Lyon are the three bowlers sure to play in Melbourne.
After falling off the fitness wagon with a side strain Ben Hilfenhaus will be forced to watch from the dressing room as his team mates attempt to claim the series from the tourists 2-0. The 26-year-old Tasmanian fast bowler Jackson Bird has been included in the test squad for the MCG as cover alongside the seasoned and skiddy left-armer Mitchell Johnson.
From his cramped Sheffield Shield playing pen into the top flight, Bird should be suited to his new surroundings, whether he makes the starting eleven against Sri Lanka remains to be seen however. Under the painstakingly obvious and logically arduous confines of the Argus Review selection policy, consistent performers at state level in Australia will be rewarded with their first baggy green shaped Holy Grail. Bird has certainly earned his.
In 17 first-class appearances he has collected 87 wickets at an average of 19.72. He was last season’s leading wicket taker in his debut Sheffield Shield campaign and currently resides at the top of the table again, not so much warranting attention as screaming out for it with a gramophone.
Mitchell Johnson was the obvious selection for Australia’s final test against South Africa at the WACA. The left-armer has a stunning record at the ground, both in general and against the Proteas. He filled the position of senior bowler exceptionally well for Australia, given the circumstances and the fact he hadn’t played a test match in a year, out bowling both John Hastings and Mitchell Starc.
Regardless the Australian selectors dropped Johnson for the first match against Sri Lanka in Hobart, opting for youth over enigma in the tall left-arm quick Starc. Though Johnson could count himself a little unlucky to be the acting plug for disaster rather than first choice, Starc earned his position, helping seal Australia’s first test win of the summer against a stubborn batting lineup in the final hour.
The situation in Melbourne is complicated. Johnson’s experience may yet win him another recall. Given Starc’s occasional growing pains and inconsistencies, asking Peter Siddle, the ‘heart and soul’ of Australia’s attack, to lead two youngsters may prove a bridge too far.
On paper Johnson is the obvious choice. Difficulties arise when you consider Bird’s record of 14 wickets in two games at 12.07 at the ground. Blooding another debut seamer may seem less than appealing given the plague of injuries that led to this selection problem in the first place, though, where Bird differs from the ever expanding list of injured Australian quicks, is in his age, consistency and fitness.
The young Tasmanian is significantly older than the likes of James Pattinson and Patrick Cummins, whose bodies seemingly cannot hold up the rigours of test match fast-bowling yet. Bird has also honed his craft in the four day game and wouldn’t be bounding into a test match fresh from a T-20 tournament. His pace may not be up with some of his piers, but the coveted line and length approach from the Tasmanian could compliment Siddle’s pace and Starc’s bounce nicely.
If Bird does win his baggy green, it will be interesting to see if his simplistic yet effective approach will cause international batsmen the same problems as his Australian piers. If the premature gosling quickies from the national academy continue to fall out of the injury tree hitting every branch along the way, Jackson Bird will remain in the top flight for some time.