Sydney: Melbourne Test hero Scott Boland held his place as Australia made only one change to their winning side for the fourth Ashes Test against England in Sydney, which begins on Wednesday.
Batsman Usman Khawaja was confirmed in the team announced on Tuesday as a replacement for Covid victim Travis Head. Khawaja last played for Australia in the Headingley Test of the 2019 Ashes series.
Paceman Boland, who was man-of-the-match on Test debut with his 6-7 in Australia’s crushing innings win to clinch the series in Melbourne, kept his place with Josh Hazlewood again unavailable with a side strain.
“Scotty gets a go. Josh Hazlewood had a few bowls and Jhye Richardson a bit similar, but they were not quite up to 100 per cent,” Cummins told reporters at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Tuesday.
“We gave Josh every chance we could, but he felt he couldn’t bowl at full tilt yesterday so we’re still hoping he will be right for the final Test in Hobart.
“You are not going to blast them out on this wicket,” he added.
“There’s a little bit of grass on it, but traditionally it’s hard work, it goes the full five days and you need that disciplined stump-to-stump bowler, that’s what Scotty brings.
“There’s no secret that if Josh Hazlewood was fit he would play, but it’s a real luxury to have someone like Scotty. It would have been a shame to see him not play this week after his efforts in Melbourne last week.”
Hazlewood hasn’t played since the opening Test in Brisbane while Richardson, who featured as his replacement in the second Test in Adelaide, taking five wickets in the second innings, has also been held back through injury.
Khawaja initially lost out to Head for the vacant No 5 batting position at the start of the series and has been part of Australia’s Test squad throughout as a spare batsman.
Joe Root’s England team face another difficult assignment against a rampant Australia, who crushed them by an innings and 14 runs inside three days in the third Test at Melbourne to retain the Ashes with an unassailable 3-0 lead.
It followed heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide, where batting collapses, poor fielding and questionable selections cost the tourists dearly.
England are facing the possibility of a 5-0 series whitewash, although rain forecast for Sydney could come to their rescue.
Cummins said leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson missed out on selection because the Sydney Cricket Ground wicket was not suited to playing two slow bowlers.
There had been calls to blood a second spinner along with Nathan Lyon in the dead-rubber by selecting Swepson, who has been on the fringe of a Test call-up for years.
The Australian and England teams continue to be tested daily for Covid-19 in the wake of Head being ruled out with the virus along with many of England’s support staff. No further cases among the playing group have emerged.
Meanwhile, England have recalled seamer Stuart Broad to the side for the fourth Ashes Test, assistant coach Graham Thorpe said on Tuesday.
Broad’s absence from two of the three matches in the series so far has confounded many observers, including Australia’s Steve Smith, but the 35-year-old will be back bowling in tandem with James Anderson at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).
Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes both have shoulder injuries, Thorpe said, so Mark Wood and spinner Jack Leach will round out the specialist bowling unit.
Ben Stokes will add seam support and Thorpe said he hoped the charismatic all-rounder would take out the frustrations of a disappointing tour on the Australians.
“I hope we’ve got a couple of caged tigers coming into this match, Ben being one of them and Stuart Broad another,” Thorpe told reporters at the SCG on the eve of the match.
“Getting the players into the right frame of mind is important. I think they want put in a performance for themselves and collectively for the team.” Thorpe has been preparing the squad in the absence of head coach Chris Silverwood, who was unable to travel to Sydney for the test after an outbreak of COVID-19 in the England camp.
The former Test batsman said the health protocols put in place to ensure the series went ahead had been a distraction for the players.
“Preparations have been tough ... we’ve had the distractions of COVID, which have been challenging to say the least,” Thorpe added.
“But we also know that we haven’t played good enough cricket when we’ve been out in the middle either. We’ve got an opportunity this week at a great cricket ground to put in a really good performance.”
Australia: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (capt), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland.
England: Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson.