Australia’s selectors will need to be almost as quick as a Brett Lee yorker after the fast bowler was ruled out of the first Ashes Test less than 48 hours before play is due to start in Cardiff on Wednesday.
Lee, 32, the only bowler in Australia’s squad to have so far played a Test in England, withdrew on Monday with a rib muscle side injury. This also threatens his participation in next week’s second Test at Lord’s and indeed places a huge question mark over Lee’s involvement in the entire five-match series.
He was the pick of Australia’s attack in taking six wickets for 76 runs against the England Lions at Worcester last week, where his pace and command of reverse-swing showed him to be back near his best. But Australia have been here before. They won a series in South Africa earlier this year when Lee was injured, where the likes of left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson and the bustling Peter Siddle starred.
Now the selectors must decide whether they play their specialist spinner in off-break bowler Nathan Hauritz at Cardiff or opt for an-all seam attack with fill-in spin from the likes of Michael Clarke and Marcus North. Milked for runs by county batsmen, Hauritz has had a lean time since arriving in England.
But even though the Cardiff pitch may not be as spin-friendly as has been suggested, it will certainly take turn and if Hauritz doesn’t get a Test match here he may well wonder when he is going to play in the series.
Now Australia fans must hope their selection panel show better judgment than convenor Andrew Hilditch did during the 1985 Ashes series in England when, as a Test match opening batsman, he fell so often to a bouncer trap he became known as the ‘happy hooker´.
In captain Ricky Ponting, Australia have one of the world’s great batsmen and their top order looks, if anything, a potentially more reliable source of runs than that of their hosts.
England’s heroes from their 2005 Ashes win, batsman Kevin Pietersen (Achilles) and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff (knee), both enter this campaign under injury clouds.
Their fitness, or lack of it, could prove vital.
Australia came to England this time without a clutch of retired stars in Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.
So it is not surprising if, to English eyes, this Australia side lacks the swagger of the one that won the last Ashes 5-0 ‘down under´ in 2006/07.
But the question is not are Australia as good as their predecessors, but are they good enough to beat England?
“Any team that loses Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, are not going to be as strong,” Pietersen said in Cardiff on Monday.
But the South Africa-born shotmaker added, “It doesn’t matter who they put out, it’s going to be tough for us to do the business
“And three months ago they beat South Africa in South Africa so this team is a good team...they are the world champions, the favourites.”
For England, whose top six picks itself, the poser is whether to play just the one slow bowler in off-spinner Graeme Swann or to also field another in either left-armer Monty Panesar or uncapped leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
They’ve already decided against recalling fast bowler Stephen Harmison, who twice found out Australia rising batting star Phillip Hughes with the short ball last week.
Crucially, Harmison’s were well-directed bouncers - a point the likes of Flintoff, swing specialist James Anderson and not to mention Durham’s Graham Onions - would do well to remember.
But former Australia captain Ian Chappell is concerned that Hughes may not be as good as many of his compatriots hope.
“There seems to be this widespread feeling that Hughes is going to be a star,” Chappell told the Cricinfo website. “Well he’s only played three Tests. He’s got a very unorthodox technique that could come unglued at any time.”
Chappell also said England’s attack gave them the edge. “Generally you go with the team with the best attack.
“At the moment, England have certainly got it.”