Australian coach Justin Langer has admitted he will be watching the fatigue levels of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood over the next day or so to determine if they are ready to go for the final Test.
Langer was speaking after a day at The Oval where Cummins and Hazlewood didn’t train, and star batsman Steve Smith opted to throw balls for out-of-form teammate David Warner rather than have a hit himself.
Australia has retained the Ashes after the win at Old Trafford, but a series win will rely on a win or a draw in the final Test, which begins on Thursday.
The question of who makes up the Australian bowling attack at The Oval is a live one, according to Langer, who said Australia had not finalised its squad.
“We’ve got a lot to weigh up in this Test match. We’ve got back to back Test matches – physically and emotionally it was very taxing that last game, particularly after the third Test,” he said.
“It looked like England might hold on there at the end [at Old Trafford], so there’s a lot of energy that goes into that.
“We’ve got to weigh up who’s fresh.
“We’re lucky, I’ve said all the time we’ve got a couple of fresh, healthy fast bowlers who are jumping out of their skins to play.
“We’ll work out who’s going to have the most energy – and we’ve got plenty of skill there – the most energy to get the job done.
“We’ve got a few more things to sort out before we announce the squad.”
Langer expressed confidence in Warner, who he admitted had not had a great series.
“[He] hasn’t got the runs he wants at the moment but geez, I’m looking forward to seeing it when he does – and there’s no better place to bat in the world than The Oval,” he said.
Asked specifically about Cummins and Hazlewood, Langer admitted that the burden of a long tour was having an effect.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 8, 2019
“Pat’s also had the whole of the World Cup, he played every game of the World Cup – but they also know it’s a big game, a big Test match,” Langer said.
“But we’ll see how they pull up. They obviously didn’t do anything today. They’ll probably have a light day tomorrow (Wednesday), but it’s taking its toll.
“I go back to it, Joe Root said before the series, there’s going to be some fatigue in both the camps after the World Cup, and now we’re in the last week of a four-and-a-half month stint there’s certainly some fatigue there, and that’s mental and physical.
Josh Hazlewood gets into the top 10 for the first time in 2019, while Pat Cummins equals his career-best rating 👏
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) September 10, 2019
“So, we’ll weigh that up over the next two days to see if those guys play or not.
“England will be feeling the same way, though.”
Cummins (nine) and Hazlewood (six) combined for 15 wickets for the match at Headingley – and although the rotation policy used during the series could see Peter Siddle, James Pattinson or Michael Neser brought in, the coach is wary of losing his men in form.
“It becomes tough because Pat Cummins is the best bowler. He’s the number one fast bowler in the world [right now],” Langer said.
“He’s the leading wicket-taker in this series, Josh has had a huge impact in the games he’s played.
“It’s hard, you want your best players playing all the time, don’t you?
“That’s where the complexity lies as much as how we’re going to manage them.”
Langer was asked if he was surprised at Smith’s lack of hitting despite his much-publicised love of batting practice.
“No, not really, same as the bowlers … let’s hope he keeps loving it [hitting balls] in the next Test match,” Langer said.
“He’s still got plenty to tick off, he’s got some goals — I know he’s got some strong goals for this series and moving forward.
“But after spending that much time in the middle and the emotions of the last game, sometimes with batters you just need, it’s more a mental rest than anything else.
“[I’ve] got a feeling he might hit a few balls tomorrow [Wednesday], though… so start warming up now!”
Smith has scored an incredible 671 runs so far in the series, after missing the second innings at Lord’s and the entire Test at Headingley thanks to delayed concussion.
In the back of his mind could be the number 974 – the highest Ashes series total by any player, set by Don Bradman in the 1930 series in England.
To beat that total, the Australian No.4 would need to amass 304 runs in the final Test.