January 22, 2017

Australia's versatile squad throws up plenty of choices

On the forthcoming tour of India, selectors will have to solve the No. 6 riddle, get the batting order right, and strike a good balance between pace and spin

Steve O'Keefe is one of two left-arm spinners in Australia's squad to tour India © Getty Images

The first thing that strikes you about the Australian touring squad is the options that are available to the selectors once they decode the Indian conditions.

There are four slow bowlers, with Nathan Lyon being the senior spinner. Two allrounders have been included, but only one spare batsman, Shaun Marsh, who is versatile enough to bat anywhere in the order. The option of which allrounder to choose - the seamer or the spinner - could prove the most difficult leading into the first Test.

Even though the panel have only chosen three fast bowlers, they have given themselves the option of adding to that number after the first two Tests.

That's a lot of flexibility. However, the most important thing is getting the right combination, and this is where the tour selectors will need to concentrate their attention.

Maxwell is an intriguing player, and it is easy to see why selectors keep hoping he can turn potential into profitable returns

The No. 6 position, which seems to have been a black hole in the Test team ever since they were discovered in space (or at least since Michael Hussey retired), remains an area of experimentation. It's doubtful if Australia will venture into a Test without a third seam-bowling option. This means either Mitchell Marsh will regain the spot he has been unable to claim as his own, or Glenn Maxwell will be regarded as a second spinner and bat at six.

If Marsh junior does bat at six and act as the third seamer, that would be a steep challenge for a player who prefers to start his innings against pace bowlers. He struggles early against left-arm orthodox spinners - pushing hard rather than letting the ball come to him - and the ever-alert Virat Kohli will surely have Ravindra Jadeja ready when he walks to the crease.

Maxwell is an intriguing player, and it is easy to see why selectors keep hoping he can turn potential into profitable returns. Despite his potential to destroy opposing attacks, he will be a difficult fit for an Australian team whose primary slow bowler is also an offspinner.

It almost means having to leave Lyon out of the side and partner Maxwell with one of the left-arm spinners to attain the right combination. Then there is the added risk of Maxwell scoring a spell-binding 30, with shots flying in all directions, only to squander yet another promising innings by hitting one straight up in the air.

Steven Smith might consider moving up to No. 3 to split the left-handers in the top order © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

One of Steven Smith's first jobs will be sorting out the batting order. If he opts for three left-handers at the top of the order followed by three righties, it's an imbalance that makes Kohli's job easier. If Smith does retain the status quo, Kohli is almost certain to open with the left-hand-loving R Ashwin.

It may be in Smith's best interests to promote himself to No. 3 and move Usman Khawaja to No. 4. That not only presents Kohli with a more difficult challenge, it also separates the two best players of spin (Peter Handscomb being the other), which could assist their fellow batsmen. If one batsman is always challenging the spinners, it does ease the load on the less competent player down the other end.

The other area of intrigue is the opportunity to increase the fast-bowling ranks after the second Test. This could leave the way open for the addition of either one of the speedsters in Pat Cummins or James Pattinson. With Darren Lehmann's well-known liking for bowlers of pace over 140kph, this is a possibility.

If Cummins or Pattinson were added to the squad, it would conjure up memories of when West Indies and South Africa won in India by relying predominantly on pace

Nevertheless, it is going to depend on a couple of factors. Firstly, the two injury-prone speedsters would need to successfully negotiate some Sheffield Shield cricket. Then it would need Australia to be in a promising position after the opening two contests.

There is no point in adding either Cummins or Pattinson if Australia are already two Tests down. If either bowler was added to the squad, it would conjure up memories of when West Indies, in 1983-84, and then South Africa, in 1999-2000, won in India by relying predominantly on pace.

Pace bowling success is probably Australia's best chance of victory in India, but they will also have to bat a whole lot better than they have in the recent past.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a cricket commentator for Channel Nine, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Zafer Abid on February 1, 2017, 12:43 GMT

    You really mean plenty of choices for cannon fodder. But it is cricket and upsets do happen sometimes.

  • Aumkar on January 31, 2017, 9:22 GMT

    Honestly i still don't understand the hate against Ashwin. Smith & Warner will destroy Ashwin is something of an overstatement. They couldn't do that last time they toured India when he was already sorted out by English & was much ordinary then. Forget Herath but these guys couldn't tame the young Lankan spinners so its a mystery how they will be figuring out by facing Lyon & O'Keefe in nets. Anyways I still feel the English team was the most challenging visitor. Australia though good wouldn't be rated as good as England in these conditions since this is not IPL. I sincerely wish them luck & hope we get to see an engrossing series. India on the other hand should definitely not take the Aussies lightly. They have a better pace attack but I have doubts about there spin bowlers ability to bowl long intriguing spells. Batting has only Smith as lone superstar while Warner is good, but hey the other 2 superstars have already left the Indian shores defeated!!!

  •   Ruchit Khushu on January 26, 2017, 9:07 GMT

    @DRINKS.BREAK: Thanks for doing all the research but aren't you learning anything from England series.. Joe Root scored plenty of half centuries (70-80s) and still England lost badly. And that is when Root had plenty of support..Considering rest of Smith's support staff (I am not sure though how Renshaw would fare- may be like Hayden but even he was part of 2 series defeats in India with all his runs) so 80s from Smith won't count for that much..180s would and they too mayn't at times. I think Smith 2 80+ innings and a century in sub-continent and Australia lost on all 3 occasions.. So what is your point ?? Finally they are not going to play in Australia but rather in India !! Things work differently.. Best of luck but that won't be enough !

  • David on January 26, 2017, 4:36 GMT

    @Ruchit Khushu, you might like to look at some actual stats of Smith's play on turning wickets. In India, SL & UAE, Smith has played 14 innings, for 3 times out stumped.

    But here's the thing: Smith's average in the innings in which he was stumped is 80; his average for all other dismissal-types is 31. (And his only stumping dismissal in India was for a score of 92.) So as an Aussie I'll be quite happy to see Smith get stumped, because it will mean he's already scored plenty of runs!

  •   Ruchit Khushu on January 26, 2017, 4:05 GMT

    @AUSSIENSW Talk as much as you want.. I have seen enough of Warner to know he is no show the moment the ball starts turning and he is up against quality spin.. Check his 2011 stats..Might do a little better but not enough.. And Smith using feet against non-turning ball is different from doing it when it turns and normally he get stumped..

  • Simon on January 25, 2017, 6:33 GMT

    I was thinking what are you talking about that the Aussies are taking 2 all-rounders, then you said one of them was Maxwell. How I laughed! Spinner. Hahahah! No 6 batsman! Hahaha! Playing Test Cricket Hahahahahaha! If Smith rated him as a bowler for anything, it'd be swing and miss short form, but he won't throw him the ball for the ODI's, so why the hell would he give him the ball against a country that knows how to play in their own conditions? To top that, he's just challenged Warner to cash in and bat for the team when set, so why would he want a bloke at 6 who everyone knows doesn't play for the team? The best that can be said is that Maxwell will have his trip to India paid by CA to prepare for the Bangalore Bashers or whichever IPL franchise is overpaying him this year.

  • Wayne on January 25, 2017, 5:28 GMT

    All this garbage from the SC trolls about who can and who can't play spin on the dust bowls. Do the trolls know that Renshaw and Handsomb can't master these conditions? We barely know them ourselves so how do they profess to be the gurus on Australian cricket? Get real. Warner can play spin and will show it by tearing the Indians apart. Of course Smith can play spin. He has had limited exposure over there but has made a couple of significant scores. He has the footwork to wreak havoc on the spinners and will show Ashwin up to be as ordinary as he really is. Handscomb's technique looks well suited to hammering the spinners likewise and we know that Maxwell eats spinners for breakfast. No fears for this new Aussie line up. The biggest hurdles will be in adapting to the off field challenges that touring the SC brings. Regardless of all that. they are Australians and always up for the fight. Its exactly that ticker that makes us such a great cricketing superpower. Proof coming right up.

  • Bruce on January 24, 2017, 22:19 GMT

    @AllanGavaskar: A couple of problems with your team. For starters Neville isn't in the squad so you are going to have Wade keeping to 3 spinners - good luck with that! I also don't think Australia can go in with only 5 recognised batsman when their biggest problem on the sub-continent has been scoring enough runs to put the opposition under pressure. I understand what you are trying to do by switching Handscomb and Renshaw to get the left-right combinations, but really in India it has little to no effect as the Indian spinners bowl the same line (ie at the stumps) to both left and right handers because they rely heavily on a bit of uneven bounce and the ball that goes straight on to bring the LBW and bowled dismissals into play. We have seen both Sri Lanka and Pakistan (in the UAE) use this same line of attack very successfully against Australia and I can't see India doing anything different. I still think Australia's only chance of an upset is to use pace, so Bird must play.

  • Kashif on January 24, 2017, 17:56 GMT

    The article lacks analysis and leaves a lot to be desired. Looks like he was about to miss a train.

  • Sankydagr8 on January 24, 2017, 17:07 GMT

    Aus will be lucky if they get pitches as good as England got. All the pitches were batting friendly compared to SA series. I think pitches will be slower due to late in the season which makes batting difficult for both sides. But due to superior spinners, India should win the series 2-0.

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