An Alex Carey century has Australia on the verge of a series-sealing win in the second Test against South Africa, but injuries have also seen turn attention towards the New Year’s Test.
More specifically, the discussion has centered around who Australia may call on to replace Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc, with Josh Hazlewood’s potential return only further complicating matters.
Hazlewood declared on Thursday that he would be fit to play after being ruled out of contention for the Boxing Day Test with a side-strain injury.
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“At this stage I am,” Hazlewood told SEN.
“I’ve got a few more overs to bowl during this game in the nets, I had a good hit out two days ago,” he replied when questioned about playing at the SCG next week.
“All the signs are good and I feel ready and fit.”
Whether Hazlewood is the first-choice replacement for Starc is another question entirely, one the quick did not necessarily have a definite answer for on Wednesday.
“I think I’ll be right,” he laughed when asked if selectors had told him he would be picked.
“I haven’t had a chat to them, but before this game I had a good chat with them over a few days and it ended up being my call for the game, so I feel in a good position.”
“There’s clearly a role there for him (Morris) if Mitchell Starc was to go down,” coach Andrew McDonald told SEN on Wednesday morning.
“He may be looking like he’ll get an opportunity in Sydney depending on the balance of that attack.”
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Of course, Hazlewood could also be offered a reprieve should Pat Cummins or Scott Boland be rested.
Otherwise it appears Morris, also known as the ‘Wild Thing’, could get a chance to shine and Kerry O’Keeffe said he could “definitely” see the temptation to unleash the speed demon.
“The thing is this Sydney pitch has been dry, not a lot of bounce for the quicker men but it’s his air speed that is the talk of the town,” O’Keeffe told Fox Cricket.
“The fact he can get it over 150 kilometers and we saw what Nortje did in this Test, he’s been terrific with his air speed. It’s a slow pitch but he compromised people and that’s what Lance Morris can do. I’m very interested in what they do with the quicker men.
“Starc is out, who is that immediate replacement? They’ll consider Lance Morris above Hazlewood maybe.”
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That though is just the start of the headaches facing the Australian selectors, who will also need to figure out who the best replacement is for Green.
Mitchell Swepson and Michael Neser are both potential options, while O’Keeffe believes Todd Murphy and even all-rounder Aaron Hardie, who Ricky Ponting described as a “smoky”, will come into consideration.
“You would think it would be like-for-like where upon Aaron Hardie, the impressive young West Australian all-rounder comes into the thinking,” O’Keeffe told Fox Cricket.
“There’s a whisper they’re going to play a second spinner who can bat a little bit so if you look at that scenario, someone like Ashton Agar is an option with Carey pushing up to bat six and Agar at seven. That’s in containment. It means Agar jumps over the top of Mitchell Swepson and the second best spinner in the country, who is also an off-spinner, in Todd Murphy.”
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Coach McDonald said as much earlier in week, suggesting the SCG pitch could play a significant role in determining which direction Australia goes. Although McDonald also qualified it would not necessarily be the “next best spinner” picked.
“We always look to complement the attack,” he said.
“A second spin role is also there to make sure you’ve got balance within the attack.”
While O’Keeffe said he is a “fan” of Swepson, he added that he does not necessarily think he would be the right option should Australia opt for a second spinner for the SCG.
“I just think precision is not his friend and the best spinners on slow turners are those that are precise,” O’Keeffe said.
“He bowls wicket-taking balls but it’s his lack of consistency that hurts him. Whether they’ll back him to take five wicket-taking balls in a spell of 20 overs, they might. But I hence they’re looking for more batting as well, hence they may look elsewhere.”