Regardless of what transpires at the WACA on days four and five of the first Test against South Africa, Australia faces a pace problem when it heads to Hobart.
The workloads of Mitchell Starc and Peter Siddle were a concern last week for Cricket Australia, when both underdone pacemen were on restricted duties in the Sheffield Shield.
Starc didn’t bowl in the second innings of his Shield return, a decision branded “ludicrous” by former skipper Ian Chappell and one chairman of selectors Rod Marsh also publicly disagreed with.
Expect further lively discussions between Marsh, coach Darren Lehmann, captain Steve Smith and high-performance chief Pat Howard next week as Australia ponders its pace attack for the second Test.
If the contest runs for five days, Starc and Siddle will have a break of only four days before the action starts in Hobart.
Starc has already sent down more than 45 overs in the first Test.
Starc was well below his best
The spearhead struck late on day three but was largely well below his best in the second innings, lacking control and his usual zip.
Starc delivered a four-over spell in the morning but was restricted to a couple of three-over bursts when the heat was at its most oppressive.
Siddle has delivered a total of 34 overs, Josh Hazlewood has sent down 49 overs. They will be bowling for the third day in a row on Sunday.
Asked about the prospect of Australia’s pacemen backing up throughout summer in his pre-match media conference, Steve Smith acknowledged it would depend on how much they had to bowl.
“It’s a lot to get through. We will just have to weigh it up Test by Test,” skipper Smith said.
“Some Tests might happen a bit quicker and they won’t bowl a lot of overs so they will be OK.”
That didn’t transpire, while a shambolic collapse of 10-86 meant they had limited rest between innings.
Australia had an afternoon session in the field on Friday then a full day of drudgery in 37C heat on Saturday.
Starc is bowling with a 1cm open wound in his left leg after a training accident in September.
Siddle returned from stress fractures in his back in September.
The decision to pick both Starc and Siddle appeared sound on Thursday, when they combined for five wickets to help bowl South Africa out for 242.
It was being criticised by some pundits on Saturday, when the Proteas powered their lead well beyond 300 runs thanks to contrasting centuries from JP Duminy and Dean Elgar.
Day 3: a snapshot
Score: South Africa 242 and 6-390; Australia 244
Man of the moment: Dean Elgar. The 29-year-old made a nightmare start to his Test career four years ago – making a pair of ducks at the WACA Ground.
But he made up for that double failure with a performance that knocked the stuffing out of Australia on Saturday.
Elgar posted 127 from 316 balls, combining with JP Duminy for a 250-run stand that has made this match South Africa’s to lose.
Key moment: Elgar hardly offered up a chance all day, but when he was on 81, he skied one high in the air.
Starc made a meal of it while running back from mid-off, with the chance going begging after he spun and tumbled to the turf.
Stat of the day: 4 – Dean Elgar’s average at the WACA before posting his century on Saturday. Now it stands at 34.75.
Summary: Australia will need to pull off a minor miracle to win this one. The Proteas have dominated proceedings on days two and three to put themselves in the box seat to win with a 388-run lead.
The injury absence of Dale Steyn means the Proteas will lack firepower when Australia get their chance to bat. But South Africa coped just fine without Steyn in Australia’s first innings, and will back themselves to get the job done on a WACA deck that might finally break up on days four and five.
Quote of the day: “I felt this pop or like a thud in my shoulder, and a lot of pain. It’s not pretty.” South Africa paceman Dale Steyn recalls the moment he broke his shoulder.