Melbourne: Michael Clarke, the Australia captain, has said fast bowler Ryan Harris has looked ready to play while bowling in the nets, though he is not sure if Harris is 100% fit. Harris, who missed the MCG Test, could be available for the New Year's Test in Sydney, which would give the selectors the option to play four quicks after the three fast bowlers who played the Boxing Day Test employed speed and swing to maul India.
Since recovering from a hip complaint that kept him out of the South Africa tour, Harris has played in the Twenty20 Big Bash League while also committing to a staunch fitness regimen in order to improve his ability to stay sound for five days of a Test. He bowled sturdily in the nets at the MCG during the first Test and will likely spend more time with the team in Sydney irrespective of whether or not he is named in the squad. Beyond Sydney is Perth's often fiery pitch, where Harris claimed nine wickets against England last summer.
"I've seen Ryan bowl in the nets over the last few days and he looks pretty good," Clarke said. "I don't know if he is 100% fit but from what I've seen in the nets he looks ready to go. That's probably one of the bonuses we've got at the moment: our attack is bowling really well, and we have guys like Ryan on the mend and not too far from being fully fit. I think it is a good problem to have."
Adding to the anticipation of Harris' return is the level of discomfort inflicted on India's batsmen by James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus in Melbourne, the trio sharing 19 wickets in Australia's 122-run victory. Given the SCG's recent tendency to produce grassy surfaces that offer seam and swing in addition to the more traditional spin, Clarke said he and the selection panel will consider the merits of playing four quicks at the ground if conditions are suitable.
"The SCG of late has had a fair bit of grass on it, so we'll have to assess conditions. That's something we have to talk about as a selection panel; it is a good option to have. It is great news for us if Ryan is fully fit. He puts pressure on the rest of the bowlers and gives us an extra string to our bow.
"Ryan has had a lot of success for us and he's a quality bowler, so we need to look at the conditions. If it is going to spin or if it is a bit dry we can talk about two spinners, we can talk about an allrounder, but if it has got grass on it like it did last year there is a chance we could play four fast bowlers."
Daniel Christian, the uncapped allrounder, is another player who will be considered in the continued absence of vice-captain Shane Watson, who short of a medical miracle will be strictly a spectator in Sydney. Clarke and the selectors were vindicated in their use of four bowlers on an MCG surface that retained its life throughout, but may want to take a different tack at the SCG, where the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman have formidable records.
"This pitch had a fair bit of grass on it for the MCG, and I felt there was going to be enough there through the whole game," Clarke said. "I've got confidence in [Nathan] Lyon as well; I think he's a wonderful talent, he can hold up an end even if he's not taking wickets. I think we picked the best XI players in these conditions, on this pitch."
As a fielding captain, Clarke enjoyed perhaps his best match to date, shuffling his resources efficiently. He particularly enjoyed the fact that on eight occasions he brought a bowler on and the bowler got a wicket in his first over of a spell.
"It is nice to have bowling changes work. For me the most important thing about bowling changes is to manage the bowlers at the right time. If I feel somebody else can take a wicket I'll have a crack with that, and sometimes it doesn't work. It helps when you've got stock like I've got: three fast bowlers, bowling with great control, good pace. That makes a big difference and then it is about trying to manage them as best as I can."