Mitchell Starc looks on as Jackson Bird trains in Melbourne.
Mitchell Starc looks on as Jackson Bird trains in Melbourne.

Starc must face England if fit: Harris

RYAN Harris says if Mitchell Starc proves his fitness today, Australia must worry about South Africa later and play their spearhead quick in Sydney.

The former champion fast bowler says there's no such thing as an Ashes dead-rubber especially on Starc's home soil, but Harris also backed in Jackson Bird as the perfect shadow, adamant the "Vernon Philander-like" right-armer is also a must-have selection for the crucial tour of South Africa to follow.

Despite Bird walking away from the Boxing Day Test with bruising figures of 0-108, Harris has declared he should not be judged by one performance on an unacceptable MCG pitch.

Arguably South Africa's biggest weapon in the four-Test series in March will be swing king Philander, who possesses a freakish bowling average of a wicket every 18 runs he concedes on home soil, and Harris says Bird can mimic one of the craftiest bowlers in the world.

Harris - who so brilliantly spearheaded Australia's last Ashes and South Africa double back in 2013-14 - has worked with Bird closely over the past six months and says he's still the word.

That said, if Starc proves his fitness for Sydney, he must be rushed straight back in to make an immediate return from heel bruising.

Jackson Bird went wicketless in Melbourne.
Jackson Bird went wicketless in Melbourne.


Starc is expected to bowl in Australia's full training session, as Australia weigh up whether or not to wrap the big left-armer in cotton wool for his big mission in South Africa.

"You speak to the player, as a player you want to be playing. You don't like missing games, especially in these big series," said Harris.

"Obviously we wanted a 5-0 whitewash, they can't get it … but I'm sure if Mitchell Starc is fit he'll be definitely playing.

"As he said, the decision might have been taken out of his hands in Melbourne but it's an Ashes series and let's worry about South Africa when that comes.

"He's home in Sydney … if he's fit, he's definitely playing this Test match."

Harris said Bird would do an excellent job in Sydney if required, and should be cemented as the back-up man for South Africa where he is capable of moving the ball like Philander on seaming decks.

"I spent time with him on the Bangladesh tour (in August) and I've watched him in Shield cricket this year and to me, and I've spent a bit of time with him over the years, I don't think I've seen him bowl any better," said Harris.

"I've purposely looked at a few Shield games to see the way he's bowled this year and he's been unbelievable - really good.

"It's pretty hard to judge him on that one performance on a pretty docile wicket.

"Somewhere like South Africa will really suit him. He's in a bit of the Vernon Philander mode I reckon. A bit taller obviously but similar pace. I think he'll be very effective over there."

Harris, Australia's new under-19s coach, turned in a lion-hearted performance in South Africa in 2014 which was instrumental in a famous series win, and helped define his brilliant career.

Peter Siddle was also on that particular tour and Harris believes selectors could do worse than recall the 33-year-old veteran for this upcoming tour.

Australia took five bowlers there four years ago - Harris, Siddle, Bird, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson - and in lieu of any express reserve bowling options, Harris says the Victorian would answer the call.

"I wouldn't discount Pete Siddle. I'm obviously a good mate of his and a big fan of his and I know he's not bowling in the 140s or high 140s but he's experienced and I think he showed in England (in 2015) he should have played earlier," said Harris.

"When got his opportunity he bowled well. I wouldn't discount him."

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