Jackson Bird rules himself out of race for Ashes contention

Jackson Bird has ruled himself out of the race for Ashes selection despite having shone with the Dukes ball on the opening day of the second part of the Sheffield Shield season. The 32-year-old Tasmanian swing bowler starred with a four-wicket haul against South Australia at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday (February 23). But when asked about whether he felt his performance could enhance his chances of a possible call-up for England later this year, Bird said he would be “surprised” if it happens.

“I’ll be very surprised if I go on that tour. But you never know. I just feel the way the selections have gone in the last sort of 12 months, they’ve probably gone in another direction, which is fair enough. The guys (who have been picked ahead of him) have performed really well in Shield cricket in the last couple of years,” said Bird on the back of his 4-53 that helped restrict the hosts to 257.

Bird has played nine Tests over a seven-year period since his debut in 2012 against Sri Lanka at the MCG. While his returns of 34 wickets at 30.64 are decent, the wiry pacer has always had to deal with a reputation of being a “condition-specific” bowler, and almost un-Australian in terms of the lengths he bowls and his dependence on getting the ball to move around. There was a period at the start of his career when Bird was likened to Glenn McGrath before Josh Hazlewood burst on to the scene and looked more the part in that regard. And Bird agreed that his style of bowling had somewhat held him back in the long run when it came to cementing his place in the Australian Test squad.

“I suppose, I haven’t played as much of Test cricket as I would have liked. But, it’s pretty hard when you’ve got the kind of guys ahead of you that I have when I’ve been part of the squad. Guys like Josh Hazlewood, Mitch Starc, Pat Cummins, Mitch Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. It’s hard to get in front of those guys so. There are worse positions to be in though I suppose,” he said.

Bird was part of the Ashes touring party in 2013, and even got a go in the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street in a match where the Australians lost the series. His last Test, meanwhile, came in the last Ashes at home when he went wicketless at the MCG, where Alastair Cook batted forever while making his unbeaten 244. The Tasmanian, who originally moved from New South Wales, has since seen the likes of Chadd Sayers, a similarly-skilled operator, Chris Tremain and Brendan Doggett get the nod ahead of him.

This is the third straight year that teams are using a Dukes ball in the back-half of the Sheffield Shield season, but the first when there’s an England tour on the horizon. And you’d have thought it’ll be a great opportunity for the likes of Bird and even Sayers, who started off looking rusty on Saturday and struggled to hit the full length, to get the selectors’ attention using the brand of ball that the Aussies will have to deal with during the Ashes. Bird did that rather effectively in most of his spells during the day, especially in the burst right after the lunch break. He also had a few interesting points to share about the Dukes’ behaviour that his fast-bowling colleagues might encounter in a few months’ time.

“It takes maybe a couple of nets to sort of get used to the ball. I think the hardest time to bowl with the Dukes is when it’s new. The new ball is a bit inconsistent with the swing. Some balls swing big, and some balls just go the other way, which is kind of a bit strange. Kookaburra is a bit more consistent with the way it swings when it is new,” he explained.

“Once the ball gets the lacquer off it, around the 20-30 over mark, it’s actually good to bowl with. You can get a bit more assistance from it, which is good,” he added. Incidentally, it was in the 32nd and 37th overs of the South Australian innings that he struck two vital blows, removing the experienced duo of Callum Ferguson and Tom Cooper. He got them with similar deliveries, and the kinds that have helped him create the reputation of being among the better swing bowlers in the country. Both deliveries left the batsmen after committing them into unsure pokes outside their off-stump and having them caught-behind. Even if Bird has given up on his chances to make it to England, it perhaps would have helped that the man collecting the edges behind the wickets was Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine. But again he didn’t want to read much into it.

“I suppose it’s always good to have him (Paine) in the team, when you do play well. At least he’s there first-hand to see it but we haven’t really spoken about that sort of stuff,” said Bird. “I’m just enjoying my time with Tassie at the moment. I’ve got a bit of a different mind-set now. I’m not really worried about that sort of stuff,” he added.

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