Australia could be tempted to end a 35-year first in their upcoming match at Nagpur for the first Test against India and play a second specialist right-arm offspinner in Todd Murphy. The Australian outfit was delivered poor news on the weekend after it was confirmed quick Josh Hazlewood would miss the first Test.
The four-Test series gets underway in Nagpur on Thursday, with the Aussies already missing Hazlewood's fellow fast bowler Mitchell Starc, who's recovering from a finger injury. It also emerged over the weekend that allrounder Cameron Green will likely not be able to bowl if he is selected in the Aussie XI for the first Test, as he fights to overcome his own finger injury.
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The situation leaves Australia's fast bowling stocks in disarray, with Hazlewood's absence opening the door for cult hero Boland to play in his first overseas Test for Australia. However, Australia are also tossing up on another selection call.
Prodigious right-hand offspinner Todd Murphy was picked in the squad to tour India after a stellar domestic season. The 22-year-old averages 26.7 with a strike rate of 62.2.
Murphy toured Sri Lanka with Australia A last year and picked up a handy 4-52 in Hambantota. While there is plenty of talk that Murphy is currently the second-best spinner in the country, it doesn't guarantee him selection.
In the recent Sydney Test against South Africa, coach Andrew McDonald alluded to the need for variation to compliment Nathan Lyon. This saw Ashton Agar to get the nod as a left-arm offspinner.
However, Cummins said Murphy was definitely in the selection hunt. "It's a chance. That's something we'll have to balance up if we want to go with two spinners," Cummins told reporters on Saturday.
"Do we want variation or just two offspinners? So there's no reason why we can't go that way. Travis Head is in the side as well and bowls really good offspin. We've got plenty of variety to choose from."
If this was to be the case, Murphy and Lyon would become the first two right-arm offspinners to play together for Australia since Tim May and Peter Taylor in 1988. Lyon, set to play his 116th Test appearance in Nagpur, has never played with another specialist offspinner in the baggy green.
Josh Hazlewood's absence hurts Aussie team
With both Starc and Hazlewood ruled out of the first Test in Nagpur, selectors will have to decide how they will approach the match. Leading candidate to bowl with Cummins is fan favourite Boland.
Boland's average is a staggering 12.21 after six Tests, but bowling on India's typically flat pitches is likely to present a much different challenge to what he's faced at home. The Aussies also have serious pace at their disposal in the form of uncapped West Australian quick Lance Morris, who is the remaining fast bowler in the 18-man squad.
With conditions in India expected to favour spin, the Aussies may opt to go for a two-pronged spin attack. That could see first-choice off-spinner Nathan Lyon partnered by one of Agar, Murphy and Mitchell Swepson, with Agar's batting and experience perhaps giving him an edge amongst the other specialist tweakers.
With Hazlewood out, however, enormous pressure will fall on the shoulders of captain Pat Cummins, who will inevitably be burdened by a significantly greater workload in the first Test. While Hazlewood is clearly shattered about missing the first Test, he's confident in Australia's fast bowling depth, regardless of which way the selectors lean.
"Scotty (Boland) has bowled plenty at the MCG when it was a flat wicket (and) probably wasn't swinging or reverse swinging, so he knows how to work hard for a long period of time," Hazlewood said at Australia's training camp in Bangalore on Sunday. "You've got Lance Morris who has worked hard on reverse swing for the last month and then a nice lead-in here with a few sessions.
"The guys are excited first of all to play in the subcontinent; they both haven't yet, but they're very well qualified to do so."
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