Australia hobble into Boxing Day Test

Ian Ransom

A last-gasp victory over Sri Lanka in Hobart gave Australia a sorely needed boost after disappointment against South Africa, but a mounting injury toll has tempered the hosts' Christmas cheer in the lead-up to the second Test in Melbourne.

Captain Michael Clarke, in white-hot form, remains a doubt to play the Boxing Day Test after suffering a hamstring strain at Hobart, while front-line seamer Ben Hilfenhaus has been ruled out with a side strain. Usman Khawaja will be replacing Clarke if he sits out. Young talents Pat Cummins and James Pattinson have already been lost for the series, and fellow quicks John Hastings and Josh Hazlewood have joined them in the casualty ward.

Six months out from the Ashes, Australia's hopes of using its home summer to hone a battle-hardened attack lie in tatters. Australia's selectors have compounded the angst, however, with a controversial rotation policy that has seen injury-free bowlers rested for fear they might break down.

The in-form Mitchell Starc is the latest casualty of that policy, and despite taking a five-wicket haul to help Australia seal the Hobart win, will cool his heels in the Melbourne Cricket Ground dressing room when the Test starts on Wednesday.

"We've got to be very mindful of the fact that we've got such a lot of important cricket coming up," Australia head coach and selector Mickey Arthur said. "It's tough on Mitch but hopefully he misses one Test to make sure we don't have another injury."

Paceman Starc's enforced break and Hilfenhaus's absence mean Australia will bring an overhauled pace attack for a third consecutive Test. Mitchell Johnson earns a recall after being dumped following the final Test against South Africa in Perth.

Johnson, however, may have to wait his turn behind debutant Jackson Bird, who will open the bowling against Sri Lanka's formidable batting lineup in front of a bumper crowd at the MCG.

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