Australia’s pace depth examined

Throughout this Ashes series much has been said about fast bowling and fast bowlers, with a particular focus on pace – namely Australia’s pace to burn and England’s lack of it. Many have attributed Australia’s comfortable series win to their bowling attack’s ability to generate speeds of around 90mph while England’s medium pacers have been left floundering around the 80mph mark.

Australia’s pace spearhead and arguably quickest bowler Mitchell Starc missed the Melbourne Test with a bruised heel which saw Tasmanian seamer Jackson Bird selected for his ninth Test, and first since last Boxing Day. Bird, while a proven wicket taker in first class cricket including 25 wickets this summer at a tick over 16, lacks the pace of a Starc, Hazlewood or Cummins, and struggled for penetration on a lifeless MCG pitch.

Bird finished the match with figures of 0-108 off 30 overs in England’s only innings which prompted the visiting spearhead James Anderson to say he didn’t believe the home side had great depth in fast bowling without their big three quicks. While Anderson’s assessment might be harsh on the likes of Bird, who has a respectable 34 wickets from his nine Tests, it isn’t without merit.

When everyone in the country is fit and firing there is no doubt Australia’s fast bowling stocks are brimming with talent and raw pace, but how often is everyone fit? Speedsters James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile have long been touted as potential Test stars, but like Cummins before them, they are struggling to get on the park. 27 year old Pattinson has played just 17 Tests since his debut in 2011 and 30 year old Coulter-Nile is yet to represent his country in red ball cricket. Currently both fast men are out of action with reoccurrences of previous back injuries.

Coulter-Nile’s fellow West Australians, the left arm duo of Jason Behrendorff and Joel Paris are both highly rated young men after playing for Australia in the shorter formats and doing well domestically, but they too are currently spending more time in the medical room than on the park.

Veteran Peter Siddle is still around the traps but the old warhorse of Australian attacks gone by is averaging over 75 with the ball in Shield cricket this summer and in his last few Test appearances it was quite clear that his best is behind him. While he has been, and continues to be a great servant of Australian cricket the Victorian’s dreams of another Baggy Green are all but over.

This leaves the forgotten man of Australian domestic cricket – South Australian swing maestro Chadd Sayers. The right armer has dominated the Sheffield Shield in recent years and continues to be one of its top performers. However he is still waiting and warming the bench for men around the country who deliver the ball at a higher velocity.

Sayers is arguably the closest thing to an Anderson that Australia have, but despite taking almost 250 first class wickets at 23.56 – remarkable statistics for a 80mph ‘swing’ bowler in Australian conditions, he is consistently overlooked for bowlers with more raw pace. Sayers has found himself close to the Test team a couple of times, and one hopes he gets his opportunity to showcase his skills at the highest level sooner rather than later.

While Sayers breaks the mould of what most expect of an Australian fast bowler, there is plenty of talent around this great big land. Keeping them all fit so they’re ready to step up when called upon is Australia’s biggest concern.

By Akash Fotedar

Akash is a Perth based journalist and sports writer who loves nothing more than watching people bowl fast. He’s played three seasons in the UK as an overseas professional and is still active in WA Premier Cricket