Australia may not have gotten the outcome they desired at the SCG, partially because they did not get the spin-friendly pitch promised prior to a three-day downpour arriving, but they have learned some important information ahead of their impending India tour.
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The expectation of a dry, disintegrating Sydney pitch prompted the national selection panel to designate two specialist spinners – Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar – in the starting XI for the final NRMA Insurance Test against South Africa, alongside quicks Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. When the huge rain hit and the pitch cooked under covers and thick clouds instead of baking and disintegrating as usual summer circumstances would allow, spinners found it difficult to bowl and returned numbers of 4-437 over almost 300 overs bowled by tweakers on both sides.
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However, Australia’s captain Cummins was so impressed with Agar and auxiliary off-spinner Travis Head – who took one of those scalps – that he declared both players will be important to bowling preparations for the four-Test Qantas Tour of India, which starts next month. The traveling party for that campaign, in which Australia won its only series in the previous 50 years in 2004, will be named this week. Ash, a left-arm orthodox, will undoubtedly be there “Despite concluding his first Test in more than five years with 0-58 from 22 overs, Cummins remarked of Agar.
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“It wasn’t even an audition (for the India tour). This pitch was not spinning out of the center of the wicket like the one in India. A left-arm orthodox becomes somewhat more efficient against right-hand hitters when an Indian wicket breaks up, even from the middle of the wicket. I think he performed really well.” India’s abundance of right-handed top-order batsmen, particularly with talented left-handed keeper Rishabh Pant out by injury after a recent car accident, had Australia interested in seeing how Agar would perform as a counter-point to Lyon’s off-spin.
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Lyon was the only spinner to capture multiple wickets on a Sydney pitch dominated by seamers (2-88 from 40 overs in South Africa’s first innings) and will be the pivot of Australia’s slow bowling plan in India, where conditions may change dramatically. However, Cummins also said that Australia aimed to choose a team that covered all conceivable situations, citing Head’s choices as well as occasional leg spinners Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne as part of the strategy.
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The return of all-rounder Cameron Green, who missed the fourth Test due to a broken finger and is not certain to be ready for the start of the India series, would boost Australia’s squad, according to the skipper. However, he said that although Green is an obvious selection when he is healthy, India has so much bowling potential that Australia will not be trapped into a binding pattern of two quicks, two spinners, and an all-rounder. Cam Green bats at six, so you’ve got three fast bowlers, which is already a bit of a luxury,” Cummins said.
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He showed his class (taking five wickets at the MCG), so there are no reservations in selecting him – you know what you’re going to get, and its quality. Over there, if you choose two spinners, you assume it’ll be a spinning pitch, and Travis Head, Marnus, and Smudge (Smith) all come into it a little more. In general, if you’re taking two spinners, you’re not anticipating a five-day game, and we have some other resources available.
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Trav is a somewhat different off-spin bowler than Nath (Lyon), flatter, which may be quite useful over there. I’ve been quite pleased with how he (Head) has bowled, and I believe he under-bowled him even in this game. So he’ll be an important member of our squad over there. “I believe our team will have a wide range of options. Because it’s a large series, we want everything at our disposal.”
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When asked whether leg spinner Mitchell Swepson, who was part of Australia’s squad on tours in similarly spinning circumstances in Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year, was also in the frame Cummins was more ambiguous stating simply that he “is absolutely part of future plans for the Aussie side”. Josh Hazlewood, who played just one of the five Tests in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has enhanced his case for a spot in the starting XI.
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Cummins stated that reverse swing specialist Mitchell Starc would miss at least the first Test in India as he recovers from a torn tendon at the tip of his left (bowling) hand’s middle finger. But, after missing the last NRMA Insurance Test against the West Indies and the first two against the Proteas due to a side injury, Hazlewood emerged as Australia’s top wicket-taker at the SCG, where his command of reverse swing proved crucial.
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Cummins is also a good exponent of the technique, which will be critical on dry, abrasive surfaces in India, thus Hazlewood’s skill set might be important while Starc sits out. I thought Joshy bowled well throughout the game, particularly that reversing the ball, the way he can shift his movement and manipulate the seam,” Cummins said. And I surely took something away from it. It probably wasn’t a classic India pitch (at the SCG),” he said.
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However, each game in India may need a somewhat different cut. Maybe three quicks in one game, one quick in another. We’ll go over there and have a look. The only true downside from the rain-soaked Sydney Test, according to Cummins, was that recalled hitter Matthew Renshaw, who was introduced to the XI to replace Green’s absence, did not get to bat for more than the 11 balls he faced in Australia’s solitary innings, ending five not out.
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However, he added that Peter Handscomb, who was at the SCG as a reserve fielder for the last days of the Test after fellow Victorian and squad member Marcus Harris was freed to return to the BBL, was also in contention for the India team. Handscomb’s most recent Test was against India at the SCG four years ago, but he has experience on subcontinent wickets in India and Bangladesh, where he averages 34 from six matches.
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He’s a massive opportunity over there,” Cummins said of Handscomb, who also made an ODI century there in 2019. He’s done well in Bangladesh and India, and he’s even done well in white-ball over there. He’s definitely earned the right by hitting a lot of runs in Shield cricket, so I’m sure he’ll be there or near come election time. It’s always wonderful to have a right-hander as a different option – we have enough of left-handers.”
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Winning a Test series in India, which Australia has only done four times in the 75-year history of Test matches between the two countries, has been dubbed “the ultimate frontier” and “Everest” by players and coaches in recent years.
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However, Cummins believes that Australia’s batsmen’s dominance in remaining undefeated across five NRMA Insurance Tests played in vastly different conditions, as well as his bowlers’ ability to find 20 wickets in each game except the rain-affected Sydney fixture, has prepared them well for the challenge. I believe we’ve given ourselves the greatest opportunity,” Cummins said when asked whether the squad could defy tradition and beat India at home.
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I believe we are adjusting nicely. The experience we gained in Sri Lanka and Pakistan last year has prepared us well for India; no one is going in blind. We’ll use the next three weeks to reflect on the prior year and then go over there feeling revitalized and excited. I believe we have as good a shot as we ever will.”