January 3, 2018 / 3:12 AM / 3 months ago

Cricket-Smith 'fine', Starc set to return for fifth Ashes test

SYDNEY, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Australia captain Steve Smith suggested Mitchell Starc would be back to spearhead their pace attack against England on Thursday and brushed off concerns about his own fitness on the eve of the fifth and final Ashes test on Wednesday.

Left-arm quick Starc, the leading wicket-taker in the series after claiming 19 in the first three tests as Australia wrested back the Ashes, missed the drawn fourth test in Melbourne with a bruised heel but was back bowling in the nets on Tuesday.

“Starcy’s pulled up pretty well this morning and said he’s ready to go so I guess that’s a good indication,” Smith told reporters at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

“The break that he’s had from bowling has helped his heel heal, it’s coming on nicely, he’s confident. You’ve got to take the player’s words sometimes, and hopefully he gets through fine, if he gets the opportunity.”

The Australia skipper, who has accumulated a series-leading 604 runs at an average of 151, did not name a side but left no one in any doubt that he would be leading it despite missing training on Tuesday because of a bad back.

“It’s a little bit stiff but nothing I haven’t dealt with before,” Smith said.

“I’ll have a good hit and a good catch today and I’ll be fine tomorrow.

“I love batting out here at the SCG, it’s my home ground and I’ve made a few good scores. So hopefully I can continue the run.”

Starc looks likely to return in place of Jackson Bird, who laboured as a stand-in on an Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch rated as “poor” by the governing International Cricket Council.

Left-arm tweaker Ashton Agar was also brought into the squad to offer Australia the option of going with two spinners if it looked like the SCG was going to offer a lot of turn.

Smith, though, said that it was unlikely that one of the quicks would make way for a second slow bowler in addition to off-spinner Nathan Lyon as the hosts look to wrap up the series 4-0.

“The wicket’s got a fair bit of grass and looks to be a pretty good wicket,” he added.

“I’d say we’d probably opt for just the one spinner. Nathan has done a terrific job throughout this series and I’d say we’d go that way.” (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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