AUSTRALIA’S selectors have been urged to deploy a Mitchell Starc-Mitchell Johnson left-arm alliance as part of a long-term pace strategy to win back the Ashes.
Johnson has a golden opportunity to reignite his flagging baggy-green career with the venomous but unpredictable left-armer in line to replace the injured Ben Hilfenhaus (side strain) for the second Test against Sri Lanka starting Boxing Day.
There was a view the door had closed on Johnson after his implosion last year coincided with the revival of Hilfenhaus, who surged up the pace pecking order after taking 27 wickets against India at 17.22.
But with Hilfenhaus having lost his mojo this summer, and now battling injury, Johnson has a glorious chance to rip through Sri Lanka at the MCG and become the first Australian left-arm quick to take 200 Test wickets.
Former Test skipper Allan Border said Johnson, who has 196 Test scalps from 48 Tests at 31.17, deserves his chance ahead of Jackson Bird for Boxing Day after his six-wicket haul against South Africa in Perth filling in for the injured Peter Siddle.
“For me it’s Mitch Johnson as the obvious choice (to replace Hilfenhaus),” said Border, who also lauded the development of Starc after the young quick routed Sri Lanka in their second innings with 5-63 in Hobart.
“Peter Siddle is leading the attack well and I would like to see Mitchell Johnson come in to complement him.”
Long-term left-arm bowling partnerships are rare in the Test arena, but there is a view the fusion of Johnson’s venom and Starc’s pace and height can provide Australia’s attack with a new dimension with the Ashes looming.
Border likes what he sees from the developing Starc, who has now claimed five-wicket hauls in consecutive Tests and boasts 24 victims at 29.21.
“I think Starc has been a real revelation and one for the future, he is only young so I like what I saw from him in this Test,” he said.
“I just like Starc for the future. He’s 21, he’s got all the right attributes, he’s very athletic, he is going to be expensive because he is young but he will tighten up.
“Glenn McGrath at the start wasn’t the Glenn McGrath that we saw at the end, he became a different bowler with maturity.”
Former left-arm Test quick Bruce Reid urged the national selectors not to baulk at bowling Johnson and Starc in tandem, believing they can be key weapons in Australia’s Ashes revenge mission next July.
“The selectors are unlikely to play them together under this rotation system but I hope they do,” he said.
“I don’t see the difference (in selection mentality) between playing two right-hand fast bowlers and two left-handed guys.
“If Starc and Johnson are in form and bowling well, I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t use them for Boxing Day and down the track, during the Ashes series.”
Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford is wary of the Starc-Johnson threat heading into the second Test.
“They are fortunate enough to have some talented bowlers and they are really bowling well,” he said.
“What we saw of Mitchell Johnson against South Africa it looked like he was bowling well.
“Our boys are working hard against that sort of (left-arm) bowling and we are doing as much practice as we can (to cope with) their angles.”