If England had any doubts about the quality of the Australian attack awaiting them at Brisbane for the first Test, they were dispelled on Monday by Mitchell Starc.
Starc, described as the best bowler in world cricket by Glenn McGrath in Sportsmail on Saturday, took a hat-trick for New South Wales against Western Australia in the last round of Sheffield Shield matches before Australia declare their hand for the first Test.
Two victims fell to Starc’s trademark yorker and the man who is expected to be his new-ball partner at the Gabba, Josh Hazlewood, returned from injury to take three wickets of his own.
It is an ominous sign for England that Australia’s big two fast bowlers appear to be coming to the boil at the right time, making up for the fact that James Pattinson has been ruled out of the Ashes through injury. On top of this, Australia’s third fast bowler, Pat Cummins, struck twice.
‘It was good fun,’ said Starc, who finished with four for 56. ‘I’m pretty happy with my rhythm. I’m sure the batsmen know where my yorker is going but they keep on missing it so I will keep on bowling it.’
However, it is not all doom and gloom for England. Australia have big question marks over the No 6 position and the wicketkeeper-batsman role, where Matthew Wade hasn’t nailed down an Ashes place.
Three candidates for that place — Shaun Marsh, his brother Mitchell and Hilton Cartwright — all fell cheaply yesterday as Western Australia were bowled out for 176 in reply to New South Wales’ 270.
An intriguing candidate to play instead is Jake Lehmann, son of Australia coach Darren, who hit a century and 93 in South Australia’s Shield game against Victoria at the MCG.
Lehmann snr has said before that he would find it difficult to be Australia’s coach if his son, 25, became a candidate for Test selection, but that could be the scenario when the selectors pick their Brisbane squad.