Josh Hazelwood has been ruled out of Australia’s series-opening test against South Africa, leaving Scott Boland and Michael Neser as leading contenders to take his spot in the pace attack at the Gabba in Brisbane starting Saturday.
Hazlewood and skipper Pat Cummins missed Australia’s 419-run win over the West Indies in the day-night test, completed Sunday for a 2-0 series sweep, after playing in the 164-run first test win at Perth.
Boland and Neser joined left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc in the bowling unit in Adelaide and collected important wickets but with Cummins set to return to take on South Africa, selectors will have to choose between them.
With 21 wickets in four tests at an average of 10.33, Boland, who plays domestically for Victoria, has the better career figures. But Neser’s home ground is the Gabba and he’s more familiar with bowling in that arena and amid Queensland's hot and humid conditions.
Cummins said he was 100% ready to start in Brisbane but Hazlewood hasn't recovered in time from a side strain to join the 14-man squad. Express bowler Lance Morris and batter Marcus Harris were included in the 14-man squad as backups in case of injury.
“Pat continues to improve, bowled with freedom on Saturday and appears likely to play this match although Josh will need more time," chief selector George Bailey said. “With that in mind we have retained Michael Neser and Lance Morris in the squad for this match.
“Michael bowled superbly in Adelaide, as did (Boland). We were impressed as always with their performances that backed up what they have achieved in the past. Lance is a very exciting prospect who will benefit from time with the squad."
Nick Jones, the Australian team's physiotherapist, said Hazlewood's soreness was subsiding and it was different to the injury that kept him on the sidelines for most of the last southern summer.
“We are a bit more confident that once that little bit of soreness he’s got settles down, that he will be able to ramp up his bowling a bit quicker,” Jones said. “And then hopefully he’ll be available for one of the last couple of tests of the summer.”
Australia squad: Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins (captain), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland, Michael Neser, Marcus Harris, Lance Morris.