Starc reminder: Smith floored as Australia ponder pace stocks

Mitchell Starc has given England another indication of what he has in store for them by putting Steve Smith on his backside, but Australia's depth in sheer pace is looking dangerously thin following the latest breakdown of Nathan Coulter-Nile.

England have already suffered fast bowling fitness setbacks in the lead-up to the first Test with Steve Finn sent home and Jake Ball rolling an ankle in their tour match in Adelaide.

Australia now have their own concerns after Coulter-Nile suffered a flare-up of a previous stress fracture in his back.

With James Pattinson already sidelined for the Ashes with another back problem, the loss of the 30-year-old could have significant implications for Australia's fast bowling plans this summer.

The stock of bowlers with the ability to rattle England with 145km/h to 150km/h pace is all of a sudden very limited.

Australia's Plan A is for the express Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins to play the entire series, along with Josh Hazlewood, but it shapes as a gamble to try and push Cummins, in particular, through all five Tests.

Tasmania's Jackson Bird is joining the frontline Test trio in Brisbane next week for a bowling camp and will be in Steve Smith's 12-man squad for the first Test at the Gabba.

While he could be a very handy asset for Australia he does not possess the outright speed of Starc and Cummins. There are few that do. Western Australia's Jhye Richardson was clocked at 148km/h - quicker than both Starc and Cummins - and claimed six wickets in the Sheffield Shield game against NSW in Sydney this week, but the 21-year-old has played only three first-class games.

To ensure the balance of their attack is not jeopardised Australia may have to more seriously weigh up managing their risk. The desire for Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood to play all five Tests must now be a major consideration for selectors in their decision whether or not to include a No.6 batsman who can offer Smith a fifth bowling option, such as Hilton Cartwright.

Depending on workload one other option they may have to look at is resting Cummins for the second Test in Adelaide and bringing in Bird or another bowler such as 2013-14 Ashes winner Peter Siddle or South Australia's Chadd Sayers, who impressed with the pink ball against a star-studded NSW last month.

Cummins, 24, is preparing to make his home Test debut and while he has strung together back-to-back Tests on two occasions this year even he admits that the assignment of playing five in succession in a series is "pretty brutal".

Hazlewood has a well-earned reputation as the ironman of the Australian attack - he played 22 Tests in a row including the last two home summers before suffering a side strain against Bangladesh in August. But Starc has only figured in every Test of an Australian season once, when he played all six against South Africa and Pakistan in 2016-17, and a foot fracture led to him being withdrawn from India midway through the Border-Gavaskar series in the autumn.

There is certainly no doubt about how well Starc is travelling right now.

The left-armer this week created history by claiming two hat-tricks in the one shield match and he demonstrated on Friday he is just as difficult to handle when at his fiery best for the world's best batsmen as well.

Smith is certainly in that category but during NSW training at the SCG twice lost his balance getting out of the way of Starc thunderbolts, on one occasion being left on his backside.

Smith and Starc traded barbs throughout as the captain and his deputy, David Warner, took on the three Test quicks.

"That's what they're always like. They're always into each other. Patty and I just do our thing. But it's pretty easy to fire Starcy up, so I think Smithy takes it on," Hazlewood said.

"It's always good fun and they're obviously two world-class players, so it keeps you on your toes. There is no real 'go through the motions' when you're bowling at those two guys."

Hazlewood, described as "an absolute genius" by Smith after his eye-catching return from injury against Western Australia, is content to sit out the Blues' final pre-Ashes match against Queensland starting on Monday.

"I'm pretty happy with where it's at now so I don't think there's a need to play another game," Hazlewood said. "I'm ready to go now."

This story Starc reminder: Smith floored as Australia ponder pace stocks first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.