Twin spin: Wounded Aussies’ bold selection call

    Lewis’ assessment of the Sydney deck comes as Australian selectors have been given their blankest canvas since before the pandemic, after Cameron Green’s broken finger ruled him out of the series-finale against South Africa and potentially jeopardised his place on Australia’s Test tour of India.Green’s injury followed that of Mitchell Starc, who will all but certainly have his run of 23 consecutive Tests ended by a tendon injury to his left hand.Lewis, while careful not to tell the panel what to do, flagged a deck that could crumble later in the game.“The way our soil is and the way it’ll break up, I daresay it’d be good if they went with a couple of spinners,” Lewis told CODE Sports. “I think it will take turn later on in the game, but thankfully I look after the pitches and not the team selection.”When captain Pat Cummins named the side’s XI on the eve of Australia’s home Test summer, it was almost an afterthought. The team practically picked itself. Since Usman Khawaja held his spot for the Hobart Ashes Test after making twin tons in Sydney – squeezing Marcus Harris out to make way for the returning Travis Head – the Aussies picked the same 10 players in seven straight Tests, with the only change coming in the fourth bowling spot, rotated between Scott Boland, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Swepson. Injuries to Cummins and Hazlewood gave the team a slightly different look, with Michael Neser and Boland getting a look-in so far this summer.But that was nothing compared to what is about to come.The fresh blows to Starc and Green – both on their respective bowling hands – combined with several other factors have combined for the perfect storm of selection intrigue ahead of the Sydney Test.The match is every chance to be a dead rubber in the series, providing a relatively low-stakes opportunity to blood a player or two ahead of huge Test tours of India and England.And then there are the conditions. Sydney has historically been a spinning wicket, although only twice in the past 16 years have the hosts selected two specialist tweakers.However, leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson, white-ball mainstay Ashton Agar and uncapped Victorian off-spinner Todd Murphy are all in the frame to pair with veteran Lyon in what would also be an audition for a greater role in the subcontinent.There are no shortage of options for selectors to replace Green and Starc, but they are not necessarily like-for-like.BOWLING OPTIONSThere are three players currently in the squad who didn’t make the XI for Melbourne: Hazlewood, Lance Morris and Harris.Hazlewood was not quite right to go for this Test as he recovered from a side strain but he will almost certainly be fit for Sydney. However, the 217 Test-wicket star doesn’t have the express pace to match that of Starc, with the rapid uncapped Morris seriously being considered as a straight swap.Hazlewood could instead replace Boland depending, in part, on how the Victorian pulls up from having to shoulder extra load in his home Test.BATTING, ALL-ROUND OPTIONSHarris again started the Sheffield Shield season strongly and has been on standby as the spare batter in the squad all summer. Theoretically he could replace Green, likely as an opener, with Usman Khawaja dropping back to the middle order.It would be an extremely conservative call given Harris, 30, is a known quantity at Test level, averaging just 25.29 across 14 Tests. It would also deprive Australia of a bowling option.Alternatively, Green could be replaced by an all-rounder. Mitchell Marsh and Glenn Maxwell, both of whom have Test experience, are injured and cannot be considered.WA’s Aaron Hardie is therefore probably the frontrunner on the all-rounder front, averaging 45 with the bat and 31 with the ball in first-class cricket, batting in the middle order and as a medium-fast change bowler.Victoria’s Will Sutherland has a similar skillset and has had an excellent first half to the Shield season if the selectors opted for a bolter.Queensland veteran Neser has played two Tests and was desperately unlucky to be dropped following his performance against the West Indies in Adelaide. He is more than handy with the bat, boasting two first-class centuries, although with a first-class batting average of 25 he is more of a bowling all-rounder than a genuine No. 6.Alex Carey’s strong batting form could satisfy selectors that he is a decent option at No. 6, in which case Neser could bat at No. 7 and be part of a five-strong bowling line-up.Neser’s case would probably be helped should the selectors heed Lewis’ advice and opt for a second spinner. Lyon, eighth on the all-time Test wicket-takers list, is a no-brainer, but who would accompany him is a tougher question to answer.SPIN OPTIONSSwepson had long been considered Lyon’s spinning heir apparent but fared only modestly in Asia when finally given his chance and has had a similarly underwhelming start to the Shield season.Agar has been a perennial tourist with Australian squads to Asia in recent years, but hasn’t played Test cricket since the trip to Bangladesh in 2017. His first-class record with the ball is also nothing flash but he would provide extra batting depth, possessing three first-class centuries and that famous 98 on Test debut in 2013. Like Swepson, he also turns the ball the other way to Lyon and this Test could be used as an audition for India.The best-performed spinner in state cricket this summer had been Victorian offie Murphy, who has 14 Shield wickets at 17.71 and impressed against the touring West Indians. He is now widely viewed as Lyon’s clear successor but it is unclear whether selectors would pick two off-spinners in the same XI, especially given Travis Head’s part-time acumen.The rank outsider is white-ball dynamo Adam Zampa, whose first-class record is poor but has bobbed up for NSW just before the Big Bash League mid-season break. He is highly unlikely to be picked for the Sydney Test but remains in the conversation for India.Stalwart left-arm orthodox spinner Jon Holland’s body has let him down this summer, leaving him out of the mix after almost playing in Sri Lanka mid-year. Fellow southpaw tweaker Matt Kuhnemann has also dropped off the pace after being denied opportunities with Queensland.

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