A recovering Mitchell Starc is a strong chance to return to Australia's team for the fifth Ashes Test at the SCG, though he would be doing so over the objections of the former spearhead Glenn McGrath, who believes the left-arm quick should only resume bowling when he is "100% fit".
Having failed to recover from a bruised heel in time to take part in the Boxing Day Test, Starc bowled off his full run for about 30 minutes in the SCG nets on Tuesday, and is clearly eager to front up on his home ground alongside fellow New South Welshmen Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon. The captain Steven Smith, meanwhile, took a rare day off the nets due to some back soreness but is expected to be fine to play.
With nearly two months between this match and the first of Australia's tour of South Africa, Starc has the opportunity for a break in between, even if he is named in the squad for the ODI series against England. The announced is due on Wednesday. McGrath, who was famously averse to any sort of resting or management during his long and durable career, said he would prefer to see Australia be cautious with Starc, given the niggardly nature of heel injuries and the looming South African assignment.
"You want him playing but you want him at 100% and you want to make sure next series he's ready to go at 100%, so if Starcy's not 100% I'd be tempted to rest him, unfortunately for the Sydney public," McGrath said. "They want to see him performing on his home ground and he wants to be out there as well, but you've got to think 'ok, South Africa's important', so we'll wait and see.
"As a player you want to play every game, you really only think about the next game and do whatever you can to get through it. When you've got important series, South Africa coming up, Australia have won this series here, he's such an integral part of the Australian line-up. I think they missed him in Melbourne more so bowling to the tail, because the pace and the lengths he bowls, he can clean up a tail pretty quickly."
The SCG strip, part of a natural wicket block as opposed to the MCG's drop-in surface, is another factor for the selectors, as its extra live grass may be more helpful to Jackson Bird, who had little joy when replacing Starc in Melbourne. How much the wicket is shaved and whether it dries out much more ahead of Thursday's coin toss will also determine whether Ashton Agar becomes a serious chance to join Lyon in a dual spin attack.
Cummins, who is expected to play his first Test on his home ground, said Starc's heel was showing good signs in that it had not worsened at all since the first time the left-armer experienced pain, as opposed to the more serious ailment Cummins had suffered during his 2011 Test debut in Johannesburg. But he agreed that it would not be wise to risk Starc's ability to take part in South Africa.
Starc confident he's going to play - Cummins
Australia bowler Pat Cummins talks about team-mate Mitchell Starc's recovery from a bruised heel ahead of the final Ashes Test
"I'd say that [South Africa] is probably the big concern. If it was really bad that's I guess what would keep him out," Cummins said. "But it's different to me. He can walk around. Each time I kind of bowled a spell it got worse and worse. The way he was saying, it was almost worse in the first innings and stayed the same for the whole Perth match.
"And the last couple of weeks it's definitely got a lot better. So it's definitely different to what I had. By the end of my match, or even the first innings, I could hardly walk. It's like anything. It's a bruise. If you keep smashing it, it will get bigger and bigger. But he says it's in a good spot now. I think if he doesn't think he can get through this match he wouldn't play but we'll find out in the next couple of days."
Starc joined Cummins, Hazlewood, Bird, Smith and his deputy David Warner for a conference in the middle of the SCG before training, in which the subject up for discussion was swinging the ball. Both conventional and reverse swing are likely to factor in Sydney, and Cummins said the assistant coach David Saker had been at pains to discuss taking care of the ball to ensure it would be capable of doing both.
"We were actually just talking about swinging the ball and the keys," Cummins said. "Obviously for bowlers our major tool is the ball, batters the bat. It's about getting our message the same, which side to shine. It's kind of sometimes a decision of 'when do we start shining it one side or the other to get it reversing' and things like that. I thought both teams did it pretty well in Melbourne."
He also assuaged concerns that the Australians needed Starc to be playing in order to take 20 wickets. "We've seen Birdy out the back there he's bowled beautifully on this wicket and all season in the Shield and taken lots of wickets," Cummins said. "So I think he'll fit in pretty seamlessly and here at the SCG. Hopefully there's a bit more spin for Gazza [Lyon] and we saw how important the first couple of games were when the ball spun, how damaging he can be.
"I think we'll be fine, we've got Mitch Marsh in as well. The good thing about our group at the moment is we can all get up for a big spell and it feels like anyone can bowl that big spell that can crack a game open. It doesn't feel like there's one spearhead."
For his part, McGrath said he was not in favour of allowing fielding teams more latitude in terms of deliberate bounce throws to encourage greater reverse swing, a practice both teams were warned about by the umpires at the MCG. "You try to look after the ball and get it swinging on pitches like in [Melbourne] where there's nothing happening," he said.
"Sometimes in India where the pitches are quite flat. But I think conditions in India are a little more abrasive anyway. Not sure how I feel about that. If that [bounce throwing] happens naturally fair enough, but if it's intentionally throwing it in the deck any chance they get, I think there is a bit of a line there."