From None to Too Many

Comments that Australia’s pace-bowling supplies are wearing thin have created a bit of a paradox. Certainly, there aren’t too many young quicks bursting through the ranks at the moment, but to suggest that Australia has ‘run out of pacemen’ is not necessarily true.

First, let’s have a look at the touring squad for Bangladesh. There’s Stuart Clark, who burst onto the scene in South Africa a few months ago and who has already proven himself to be a reliable performer in the tests he has played. Despite hardly ever taking the new ball for New South Wales he takes it for Australia and looks every bit as dangerous as Glenn McGrath.

The latest ‘recallee’ has been Jason Gillespie, one of the best bowlers in the world whose career looked to be cut to a stand-still when he had an unspectacular Ashes tour last year. However, nothing can stop the mulleted-quick when he gets going, and consistent wickets for South Australia during the Australian summer made his return to the team in place of the disappointing Michael Kasprowicz a mere formality.

And finally, there is Brett Lee. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks then you may not have heard that he was named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year. Included in that illustrious list because of his all-round stellar year, Wisden also had enough sense to praise his brilliant sportsmanship and never-say-die attitude, recalling his Ashes tour when he bowled ‘as quick as the wind’ (according to Paul Collingwood) and never gave up, nearly dragging Australia to the finish-line in the dramatic Edgbaston test. He’s one of the better quicks in the world today, and as Australia’s latest pace spearhead he has done an amazing job. He has been able to take wickets consistently, something which stems from Ricky Ponting’s faith in him.

But here’s the problem. Australia have a few things to do in the second Test match against the hard-scrapping Bangladesh, one of which is to regain some composure after a horrid first test, but also to work out who will replace worn-out bowlers Brett Lee and Shane Warne. This could very well be a defining test match, as Australia have long stated their wanting to establish a squad for the World Cup next year.

But who’s up for it? Which of the pacemen will stand up and say ‘I want to play for Australia’? Who deserves it?

Let’s have a look at the possibilities:

Mitch ‘I’m young therefore I should play’ Johnson – without a doubt one of the more unnecessary selections in the Australian one-day outfit of late. Of great potential, many people were amazed when he was selected to tour New Zealand last year for the one-day series, despite having not made a sizeable splash in his domestic limited-overs appearances for Queensland. He has taken few wickets for Australia at an unhealthy economy rate but had another good year for Queensland, particularly when bowling with Andy ‘perfect role-model’ Bichel. Johnson took wickets in the Pura Cup Final a few months back and looks more suited to the longer game; but do a few flashes of brilliance mean he deserves a test spot?

Shaun Tait – Quick. Aggressive. Never-say-die. Such a corny intro does not do justice to Shaun Tait, who has made such a splash for the second consecutive year in Australian state cricket. One of the players who debuted in last year’s Ashes loss, his slinging action and great pace caused the English batsmen a fair bit of trouble. He bowled the best spell of pace bowling I saw all year when, with tooth, claw and dagger he slashed South Australia back into the ING Cup final, but he’s injured himself again, which puts his good work over the summer down the plug-hole.

Nathan ‘What more do I need to do’? Bracken – when Australia unearthed this bowler a few years back and Brad Williams had to make way for him in the national team Williams was heard to lament that ‘I just bowl with the wrong arm’. But as the years have worn on Bracken has turned into much more than a simple left-armer. Dumped from the Test team after a horrendous game against the Indians at Sydney, he has been a consistent bowler for both New South Wales and the Australian one-day team. He swings the ball both ways, normally digging in a few yorkers just to keep the batsmen on their toes, and could not have done anything more over the past year to deserve a test spot. Was Australia’s best bowler in the TVS Cup, very nearly in the VB Series and was the only bowler for the whole game to make an impact in the Johannesburg slogfest. Deserves to play.

Outside chances – Here are two bowlers who deserve to play just as much as anybody else. Brett Dorey played for Australia in the VB Series, and although he was relatively expensive and erratic he should have been given a few more seasons of domestic cricket before he played at the big-time. He will certainly develop over the next few years.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of Australia is Shane Harwood, the nuggety right-arm quick bowler. Did an honourable job for Victoria this year whilst bowling on the flat Junction Oval wicket, and is much more dangerous than his figures suggest. Shane Warne rates him as the best dead-pitch bowler in Australia, which means that he would be suited to a day-one Bangladesh wicket. Is a slim-chance to play at best, and will probably play out his career with Victoria with Mick Lewis.

There isn’t necessarily a shortage in pacemen – there doesn’t seem to be many coming through, but there’s by no means a shortage. The selectors have simply been choosing the wrong ones.

And this time they’ll probably go for Johnson, and if Tait wasn’t injured they’d probably go for him. But for me the choice is clear-cut: in order to win at the next World Cup Australia need a pace bowler who can swing the ball like Flintoff and Jones. That bowler is Nathan Bracken. What exactly has he done wrong?

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