Injured fast bowlers and spin dilemmas, Australia face tough selection decisions ahead of the first Test against India
With the Border-Gavaskar Trophy set to begin on 9 February, Australia have some tough decisions to make with regards to their bowling options ahead of the first Test match.
With Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc injured and Cam Green being deemed unfit to bowl, there are questions that need answers for Pat Cummins’ side.
In place of Hazlewood, Scott Boland will more than likely play his first Test outside of Australia. At 33, he has played just six Test matches, but has proved himself crucial in the pace attack, taking 28 wickets and averaging 12.21.
Another option available is uncapped 24-year-old Lance Morris. The right-arm tearaway has impressed so far in his 18 first-class matches, with 59 wickets at 25.08 to earn a call-up to the Australia squad against the West Indies in December.
However, in what will most likely be a two-man pace attack given the injury to Green, Boland is the likelier choice alongside Cummins. A four-bowler attack will demand relentlessness on Indian pitches, and it will be a risk to hand Morris a debut.
Green’s injury has thrown the balance of Australia’s side into uncertainty, but Australia also have a choice in the middle-order. While Green can play as a specialist batter at six, Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb may also challenge him for a place in the XI. Renshaw came into the side when Green was unfit to bowl against South Africa, he scored five not out in the one innings he was required to bat.
Australia coach, Andrew McDonald, said of Green’s likelihood to play: “He’s made some significant steps forward in the last couple of days, probably to my surprise, so there’s still an outside chance that everything going well he might be on the team sheet. I wouldn’t say he was in discomfort with his bowling, one of the deliveries jarred the bottom of the bat and that can create discomfort for anyone but there’s a little bit of awareness around that finger.”
There are no doubts elsewhere in the batting lineup; David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head are all set to continue after the South Africa Tests. With Alex Carey at seven, the most pressing issue Australia face is the balance of their four-man bowling attack.
The choice Cummins faces is a choice between playing three quicks or two spinners. Speaking on Saturday, he said: “I wouldn’t say it [two spinners] is a given, it’s very conditions dependent so particularly this first Test, once we get to Nagpur we’ll see.
“I think sometimes, talking about a couple of spinners you forget how good a lot of our fast bowlers have been in all conditions. Even some of the SCG wickets, there hasn’t been a lot in them for quick bowlers but the quick bowlers have found a way.”
Even with Cummins’ comments in mind, it seems most likely that Australia will opt for two spinners. Even with Travis Head’s part-time off-spin, potentially having to bowl last in Nagpur with only him and Lyon will be an unenviable prospect.
Setting Lyon aside, Cummins has three options in his squad in this regard – Ashton Agar, Mitchell Swepson and Todd Murphy. None of the three has played a Test match in India, and have nine Test caps between them.
Agar is the most experienced of the three, albeit ever so slightly, with nine wickets in five Tests at an average of 52. While he can offer a chance for India’s batters to score, he is likelier to offer more with the bat. He averages 32.50 and will strengthen Australia’s tail alongside Cummins.
The other wrist-spin option Australia have is Mitchell Swepson. Still a relatively unproven product in the red-ball arena, he has 10 wickets at over 45. He could present a slightly more favourable option than Agar.
The biggest call Australia could make is to opt for uncapped 22-year-old Todd Murphy, who boasts of 29 wickets in seven first-class games at just over 25. If he were to receive his call up this would be a huge opportunity to learn from one of the all-time great off-spinners in Lyon. He can also offer more control in a holding role than Agar or Swepson.
With just two days until the series gets underway, Australia’s team management has plenty to think about.