Mitchell Johnson is poised to make a stunning comeback to Test cricket when Australia bolster their firepower in a bid to blast out South Africa at Adelaide Oval next week.
Michael Clarke's bold bid for victory in the first Test was stymied yesterday by a steely Proteas top order that weathered a brilliant burst from James Pattinson before batting to safety at 5-166.
As pace great Dennis Lillee claimed Johnson was back to his best, Australia are set to send an SOS to the left-armer to play his first Test in a year after experienced duo Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus rarely threatened South Africa on the docile Gabba.
Although NSW left-armer Mitchell Starc was 12th man at the Gabba and is a natural candidate for promotion, it is understood Johnson's return to his best bowling form and powerful record against South Africa will fast-track his recall.
Clarke said no decision would be made on the team for several days but denied Hilfenhaus and Siddle had used South Africa's second innings to audition for one place in the second Test attack.
"That is a long way from the money," he said. "We have got four days back home before we head to Adelaide so that (selection) conversation will be had in the next couple of days."
Siddle finished with 1-36 to go with his 2-111 in the first innings, while Hilfenhaus added 0-26 to his earlier 2-73.
Pattinson bowled a game-high 53 overs on the way to hauls of 3-93 and 2-58. He produced great fire during an enthralling duel with South African captain Graeme Smith yesterday.
Johnson has 36 wickets at 30.42 against South Africa with a best haul of 8-61 at the WACA Ground four years ago. His sole Test century came against the Proteas amid 502 runs at 55.78.
More important is Johnson's rediscovery of the pace and late movement that made him the international cricketer of the year in 2009.
"I've done a lot of work with Mitch in the last few months and to me he looks now back to his best," Lillee said.
"Don't discount him, he can certainly make it back."
Johnson has been in strong domestic form this summer after recovering from surgery to reattach a big toe tendon and reverting to the longer run-up that he used as a budding teenage speedster.
He has been regularly clocked at nearly 150km/h, has gained pronounced swing from a more upright bowling release and improved wrist position and has threatened batsmen at every level.
He has nine wickets in four Sheffield Shield matches, five in two one-dayers and 10 in two club matches for Wanneroo.I've done a lot of work with Mitch in the last few months and to me he looks now back to his best. " Dennis Lillee