Mitchell Starc in action during the second Test against South Africa.
Mitchell Starc in action during the second Test against South Africa.

Starc in race against time to prove fitness

AUSTRALIA are sweating over a fresh injury concern with spearhead Mitchell Starc in a race against time to prove his fitness for the third Test against South Africa.

Starc is battling a calf strain and along with all-rounder Mitchell Marsh (groin) will have to bowl at training on Tuesday to prove their fitness but medical staff were confident both will play on Thursday.

However, the fact Starc is still sore from the second Test and in doubt despite so many days rest, shapes as a real concern for Australia.

Starc bowled 33.4 overs in the first innings in Port Elizabeth but insisted afterwards he pulled up fine from the heavy workload.

The left-armer missed the Boxing Day Test with a heel problem and Australia struggled to replace him.

Mitchell Starc has led teh way against the Proteas. Picture: AP
Mitchell Starc has led teh way against the Proteas. Picture: AP

If Starc - man of the match in the first Test - was to miss either of the final two encounters in Cape Town or Johannesburg it would be as significant for the series as Kagiso Rabada being rubbed out for South Africa.

Uncapped bowlers Jhye Richardson and Chadd Sayers are on standby in the squad to make their debuts in place of Starc if he fails to come good.

Marsh pulled up from the last Test with a twinge in his groin and managed to bowl at a session on Monday night.

The all-rounder is due to roll his arm over again on Tuesday and the fact Australia hasn't sent a shadow player over suggests Marsh is set to take his place in the line-up.

Even if Marsh was limited in his ability to bowl in the Cape Town Test, it's still entirely likely that he would play exclusively as a batsman, given the strength of his recent form with the bat.

Mitch Marsh is battling a groin injury.
Mitch Marsh is battling a groin injury.

Peter Handscomb is the reserve batsman on tour but there is no back-up all-round option.

Australian players have had four full days off the training paddock and as a result, they decided to err on the side of caution and hold Starc and Marsh back a day due to their soreness issues.

Selectors may favour Richardson as a replacement for Starc due to his rapid pace.

However, Sayers may be deemed more suitable on a Newlands pitch in Cape Town that has yielded local hero Vernon Philander 47 wickets in eight Tests at an average of 16.

Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins bowled as normal.

AB de Villiers speaks to Chris Morris during a ODI.
AB de Villiers speaks to Chris Morris during a ODI.

South Africa have added Duanne Oliver and Chris Morris to their squad for the third Test.

If fast bowling weapon Kagiso Rabada is suspended from the Test match, it's understood all-rounder Morris would come into the side to provide another bowling option.

Australia are wary of the reinforcements.

"We played against Olivier in the tour game. He's played a few Test matches for South Africa as well," Cameron Bancroft said.

"In that tour game he was really aggressive and he came pretty hard at us in that second innings and bowled a lot of short stuff.

"In saying that, that's the last day of a three-day game, it's not a five-day Test match. We know he's got some good firepower about him.

"I've not seen a lot of (Morris) play. He's played a lot of one-day cricket for South Africa. They've got pretty strong competition and a lot of depth as well. They've got good covers and we're going to have to be really good and solid against them."



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