Australia v Sri Lanka: Michael Clarke doubt as Bird debuts

Australia captain Michael Clarke is doubtful for the traditional Boxing Day Test because of a hamstring injury.

If Clarke is not passed fit to face Sri Lanka, all-rounder Shane Watson will lead the Test side for the first time, with batsman Usman Khawaja standing by to replace Clarke in the middle order.

As several pacemen are ruled out with injuries, uncapped right-arm seamer Jackson Bird will make his Test debut.

Bird, 26, gets his chance as left-armer Mitchell Starc is rested.

He will play in a three-strong seam attack along with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle as Starc, Ben Hilfenhaus, John Hastings, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris and Pat Cummins are all unavailable because of injury.

Australia's injured pace bowlers

  • Ryan Harris - has not played since May because of shoulder surgery
  • Pat Cummins - sidelined with back injury since Champions League T20 in October
  • James Pattinson - suffered a side strain after bowling 9.1 overs in second Test against South Africa in November
  • John Hastings - suffered back pain after making Test debut in early December
  • Josh Hazlewood - Hastings's likely replacement for the next Test was ruled out of the Sri Lanka Test series with a foot injury
  • Ben Hilfenhaus - also limped off with a side strain after bowling 12.2 overs of first Test against Sri Lanka
  • Mitchell Starc - rested after first Test against Sri Lanka because of heavy workload

But Clarke will be given as much time as possible to prove his fitness, as coach Mickey Arthur says he is "clearly improving".

The skipper's hamstring problem surfaced during the first Test in Hobart, which Australia won by 137 runs.

But Arthur said: "If I was a betting man I'd bet on Michael leading the team out on Boxing Day. It will be a consultation between Michael and [physio] Alex Kountouris."

On debutant Bird, he added: "We've got a lot of faith in Jackson.

"At the start of the summer we had a list of bowlers that we wanted to keep fresh and ready to go and Jackson was one of them, for the simple reason that he brings everything that we want... pace, swing and consistency.

"We've got no issues about throwing the new ball to him.

"Mitch [Starc] is clearly disappointed, but he's our one quick bowler that plays in all three forms of the game.

"Hopefully he misses one Test to make sure we don't have another injury."

Australia: David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt) or Usman Khawaja, Mike Hussey, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird.

Sri Lanka (from): Dimuth Karunaratne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Prasanna Jayawardene (wk), Nuwan Kulasekara, Rangana Herath, Shaminda Eranga, Chanaka Welegedara, Tharanga Paranavitana, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Pradeep, Dhammika Prasad, Suraj Randiv.