THIRTEEN months after fading from view as a bunch of ambitious young quicks swept past him, Mitchell Johnson has been handed the chance to bowl himself back into the Test team for Australia's series decider against South Africa in Perth.
Johnson on Monday night was drafted into a super-sized squad of 14 along with NSW seamer Josh Hazlewood and Victorian all-rounder John Hastings. The three fast bowlers, along with Adelaide 12th man Mitchell Starc, will spend the next three days competing for the right to replace the injured James Pattinson at the WACA Ground from Friday.
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Led by Faf Du Plessis, South Africa survives a dramatic final day of the second Test in Adelaide on Monday.
The selectors stacked the squad with fast bowlers to provide cover for the overworked Peter Siddle, who bowled himself to exhaustion in an unsuccessful effort to win the Adelaide Test on Monday, and to a lesser extent Ben Hilfenhaus.
Rob Quiney was omitted to accommodate the return of Shane Watson and, as expected, Ricky Ponting lives to fight another day. He will have a torrid time in the Perth nets as he prepares to fight for his career, with four fresh fast bowlers busting to impress.
Johnson claimed 4-103 from 30 overs for Western Australia against Tasmania in Hobart on Monday and cracked the helmet of Tim Paine with a vicious bouncer. Afterwards, he declared his radar in good order.
''I know exactly where I'm bowling the ball,'' Johnson said. ''That consistency's right up there again, so I'm really happy with how things are going and if the opportunity came along again I'm definitely ready for it.''
The planets have previously aligned for the enigmatic left-armer at the WACA Ground, where he has caused carnage against South Africa and England. ''He's bowling fast and he's swinging the ball, which is nice to see,'' captain Michael Clarke said. ''In conditions that he loves in Perth and where he has had a lot of success, he will be doing everything in his power to get an opportunity.''
Hastings played 11 ODIs and three Twenty20s before his career was stalled by shoulder surgery. But he estimates he has added 5km/h to his bowling, making a successful comeback with 22 Sheffield Shield wickets at 18.30 as well as making runs in the lower order.
The selectors will consider unleashing four fast bowlers in Perth and the recovery of the experienced Siddle and Hilfenhaus will be closely watched. ''They've bowled a hell of a lot of overs in both Test matches. I think we need that option once we get to Perth to see how the boys pull up,'' Clarke said.
The skipper is confident Shane Watson will be fit to bat and bowl in the match that will decide the No. 1 ranking. Ponting has battled, with only 20 runs from three hits in the series, and conceded that if he doesn't fire soon, he won't see out the summer.
''The thing we need to keep in mind is that he was the leading run-scorer in Shield cricket leading into this summer, so he is batting well,'' Clarke said. ''We can all get out early in our innings. It's the toughest time to bat, especially when you're facing the best attack in the world. Once he gets in I have no doubt in the world he will go on and make a big score. He is as good a player under pressure as any player in that change room.''
■ South Australia coach Darren Berry says Gary Putland could be a contender for next year's Ashes tour after the left-arm swing bowler claimed 12-92 to bowl the Redbacks to a rare win at the MCG.
Berry says Putland's ability to bowl inswingers to the right-handers is crucial. ''He's taken six five-fors in 15 Shield matches. He is a serious bowler,'' Berry said.
''Gary Putland would be an ideal Ashes bowler. If an opening comes - and that's what I'm going to be pushing with him - it's not just based on this game. They're extraordinary figures, 12-92 off 61 overs. It's an unbelievable effort. He's gone under the radar a little bit but a couple of performances like that and I'm sure they [selectors] will be taking notice.''
Australia squad: Michael Clarke (c), Shane Watson (vc), Ed Cowan, David Warner, Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, John Hastings, Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Johnson