The prospects of an Ashes Test recall for Mitchell Johnson increased on Sunday when the veteran paceman was rested from a domestic Sheffield Shield match for his state team.
The left-armer, 32, hasn’t played a Test match since March, but has been in impressive form in the limited-overs arena for Australia and could form an experienced pace attack with Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle for the series opener against England in Brisbane starting November 21.
Johnson has taken 205 wickets in 51 Tests, and has had some success with the bat with a high of 123 not out and an unbeaten 96 against South Africa among his seven Test half centuries.
Harris and Siddle have also been rested from their provincial teams this week and are expected to be included in the Test line-up when it is announced on Monday.
Australia’s bowling stocks have been ravaged by injuries to young pacemen Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, and doubts over all-rounder Shane Watson’s ability to bowl in the first Test because of a hamstring strain.
Johnson has had mixed success in his nine Tests against England, but his sheer pace has caused the English trouble in Australia before.
Australia will be relying on improved line and length from Johnson, together with pace up around 96mph (154kph), to bother the English batsmen.
In the last Ashes series on Australian soil, Johnson was dropped after conceding 170 runs without taking a wicket in the first Test in Brisbane but responded with a man-of-the-match performance when he was recalled for the third Test in Perth.
His nine wickets in Perth helped Australia to their only win in a series.
Meanwhile, for England, wicketkeeper Matt Prior was ruled out on Monday of England’s final Ashes warm-up match in Sydney with a calf muscle injury, opening the door for Jonny Bairstow.
Prior felt tightness in his calf when attempting a quick single while batting on the final day of England’s rain-affected match against Australia A in Hobart on Saturday and the England Cricket Board said he would be rested.
“Matt Prior ruled out of final warm-up match at Sydney after a scan revealed a low grade tear in his calf,” the ECB said on Twitter.
“He will continue his rehabilitation and recovery with a view to being available for the first Test,” it added in a second tweet.
Bairstow will replace Prior in the four-day fixture against an Australian Invitational XI at the Sydney Cricket Ground from Wednesday.
“It’s great for Jonny Bairstow to get this opportunity, you never know what can happen on long tours” tweeted batsman Ian Bell, adding to reporters that he was confident Prior would be fit for the first Test.
“Matt has been a key part of our success over the last few years and obviously we want him to get recovered as quick as possible,” Bell said.
“There’s still a bit of time (before the Test). Matt’s got himself in fantastic condition for this tour and he’ll be very good with his rehab so I’ve got every faith he’ll be fully fit for Brisbane.”
Prior is one of two injury concerns for England, with Kevin Pietersen receiving a cortisone injection in his knee following the Hobart match although the star batsman told reporters on Sunday that he was “as good as gold”.