SYDNEY (Reuters): Australia skipper Michael Clarke declared himself fit to play before announcing a team featuring four fast bowlers on the eve of the third test against Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
Clarke has been struggling with a hamstring injury but took a full part in training at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) before springing a surprise with the team selection for the match, in which the hosts can wrap up a 3-0 series sweep.
With the nation debating which of the fast bowlers would be dropped, Australian selectors decided to include Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird in a four-pronged attack.
“I’m fit and playing and we’re going with four fast bowlers,” Clarke told a news conference at the SCG. “There’s a fair bit of grass on the wicket and the boys bowled really well in the last test.
“Bringing Mitchell Starc back in obviously helps our attack with the form he’s in, and Mitchell Johnson’s batting, he’s batting as well as an all rounder now. “I’m confident we’ve got enough batting... and we have some extra bowling which is a real positive for us.”
Starc returns after being rested for the innings and 201-run victory in the second test in Melbourne, which gave Australia an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series after their 137-run victory in the opening test in Hobart.
Siddle took 9-104 in the Hobart test to win the man of the match award, while Johnson, rested for the first test, claimed the same honour in Melbourne with match figures of 6-79 and an unbeaten 92 with the bat.
Bird also impressed on debut at the MCG but it was almost certainly Johnson’s batting that earned him another shot at test cricket. The 2009 ICC Cricketer of the Year spent a year in the international wilderness rebuilding his confidence after being dropped at the end of 2011.
“He’s one of the greatest athletes I’ve seen playing cricket, that’s for sure,” said Clarke. “Mitch’s time away from the game freshened his body and also freshened his mind. He’s as hungry as he’s ever been. It feels like he’s back bowling and batting well.
“He’s fit and strong and he can bowl all day.”
Starc comes back into the team as a numerical replacement for all-rounder Shane Watson, who was ruled out of the Sydney match with a recurrence of a calf strain. Mike Hussey, who has announced that the test will be his last, will bat at number five.
“When guys retire, it’s always extra special to get that win in their last match and I’m certain this test match will (be) no different as regards Michael Hussey,” said Clarke.
Uncapped all-rounder Glen Maxwell was named 12th man with Usman Khawaja remaining on standby in case Clarke suffers a relapse over the next 24 hours.
Clarke, who scored 329 against India in his last test at the SCG to kick off a 2012 in which he scored more runs than any other batsman, said he was certain he would play a full part in the match.
“I scored a century in Melbourne and I think my hamstring’s better than it was in Melbourne,” he said. “If I didn’t think I could perform at my best I wouldn’t take the field.
“It certainly won’t be because of my hamstring that I don’t make a big score.”
Team: Michael Clarke (captain), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon.