Sydney: Australia captain Michael Clarke says he's never seen more grass on a Sydney Cricket Ground pitch and predicts it will suit a pace bowling attack as the home side attempts to complete a 5-0 Ashes sweep over England.
The state of the wicket could see fast-bowling all-rounder James Faulkner included for the Test beginning Friday, possibly to replace middle-order batsman George Bailey. It would be Australia's first change to the starting XI in the series.
If Australia doesn't make any changes, it would be just the fourth team to do that in a five-Test series. Only England against Australia in 1884-85, South Africa against England in 1905-06 and the West Indies against Australia in 1991 were able to retain the same starting lineup in a five-Test series.
Clarke admitted it would be "extremely romantic" to maintain the same team for the fifth consecutive Test, but said it wouldn't alter coach Darren Lehmann's policy to pick the best XI for every match.
"If conditions turn out to be similar to what they have been in the past four Test matches then I think selectors will go that way," Clarke said Thursday. "But we certainly need to pick our best team to win this Test match."
Bailey has struggled in his debut Test series, averaging 27.20 runs with just one half-century, while Faulkner has a first-class bowling average of 142 wickets at 23.
One of Bailey's few bright spots was scoring 28 runs in one over — equaling the Test record — off England's Jimmy Anderson before Australia declared at Perth. Faulkner, who has been 12th man for three of the first four Tests, has one test cap, at The Oval in the last Ashes series that England won 3-0.
Clarke said the pitch could be the deciding factor on the lineup.
"It might whiten up a little bit but that is as much grass as I have seen on an SCG pitch," he said. "It feels pretty hard at the moment. Looking at it today I think it will certainly suit the fast bowlers."
The only other likely changes to the Australia team would come from injuries.
All-rounder Shane Watson injured his groin while bowling during the Melbourne test and fast bowler Ryan Harris has had knee and foot soreness throughout the series. But both bowled in the team's final net session on Thursday.
"I don't have any idea of the team at this stage," Clarke said. "We're waiting to see how the guys pull up tomorrow (Friday) morning."
England captain Alastair Cook, meanwhile, said there might be up to three changes in its starting lineup for Sydney, but recalling dumped wicketkeeper Matt Prior would not be among them.
Cook said former reserve wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow "deserves another chance" in what would be only his second Test and suggested that Prior needed some time back at first-class level in England to score runs.
"It's very difficult to come in for one Test, and he is a very talented player," Cook said of Bairstow. "Matty's numbers stack up very well, and he's a fantastic player — you don't do that if you're not. But as he said himself, he didn't deserve to carry on as a player."
Leg spinner Scott Borthwick, paceman Boyd Rankin and Gary Ballance could make their test debuts in the match to replace Monty Panesar, who has soreness in his calf, Tim Bresnan and Michael Carberry.
"We need to assess Monty after training," Cook said. "We can see how he pulls through and decide either afterwards or tomorrow. You have to wait and see with these injuries."