Josh Hazlewood, part of Australia's pace trio with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, is behind his preferred fitness schedule and will miss the opening round of Sheffield Shield matches ahead of the home Ashes series, as he continues his recovery from a side strain suffered in Bangladesh.
There are three Shield rounds scheduled before the first Test against England at the Gabba on November 23, but Hazlewood will be missing when an otherwise full-strength New South Wales meet South Australia under lights at Adelaide Oval from October 27.
Hazlewood's absence will put him a match behind Cummins and Starc in their Ashes preparations, and potentially open a conundrum for selectors in terms of how much he will bowl in the second and third Shield rounds. NSW are scheduled to play their third match in Brisbane against Queensland, the better to allow the majority of the likely Test squad to move smoothly into their training for the Gabba.
"You'd much rather play one or two (games), I guess, then freshen up in that third week," Hazlewood said in Sydney. "But you can always just bowl a little bit less at training in those days leading into the Test. There's still a decent enough gap there."
"The side is really good. I've been off the full run the last three or four sessions, so getting back to 100%. I'm probably about 85-90%. The timing was a bit unfortunate but it's given me a chance to freshen up and get some good work in the gym and on the running track. I'm feeling nice and fit. It'll be good to put everything together in club cricket - bowl 10-12 overs; field for a couple of hours."
While Starc has resumed bowling for NSW with a trio of improving displays in the domestic limited-overs tournament and Cummins has remained fit despite his heavy workload in Bangladesh and India, Hazlewood is now running out of time to be in the best possible condition for the start of the Ashes.
Australia ran into trouble last summer when choosing to rush back both Starc and Peter Siddle from injuries to face South Africa. Starc did well to maintain his fitness when playing only a matter of weeks after suffering a serious leg gash in training, but Siddle suffered a recurrence of a back stress fracture, which ruled him out of all cricket for the summer.
Adding to the complications for Australia is that the selectors appear to be leaning towards picking the best six batsmen irrespective of whether or not they have adequate all-round cover for a fifth bowler - a role played by Shane Watson in 2013-14. Hazlewood said the balance of the Australian bowling attack was vital to success against England.
"It wasn't just all about Mitch [Johnson]. He obviously got the rewards but, on any other day, Ryno [Harris] could have got the 30-odd wickets," Hazlewood said. "Gaz [Nathan Lyon] is obviously going to be key in that talk as well. Hopefully, we can mirror that ... keep that pressure building."