Batsman Travis Head has sensationally been dropped from the Australian side roughly half an hour before the first Test against India was due to get underway. Australia won the toss and will bat first in Nagpur, with Head being listed as 12th man in a major shock to fans around the world.
Head was Australia's leading run-scorer during the two summer Test series played against the West Indies and South Africa in Australia. Most had considered Head a walk-up start after his impressive performances at home, however the 29-year-old was overlooked in favour of Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscombe.
Off-spinner Todd Murphy will make his Test debut in India after playing just five first-class matches, accompanying Nathan Lyon as a specialist spinner on an Indian pitch expected to be particularly spin-friendly. Australia were certain to make some changes with the likes of Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc both sidelined with injury, however few expected Head would be the one to make way.
There was some speculation that the pitch in Nagpur, which appeared to be prepared to favour India's bowlers against the visitors' bevvy of left-handed batsmen, could have been behind the surprise selection move. Despite being among Australia's best at home, Head's overseas average of just 21.69 left his position vulnerable.
Handscome and Renshaw were both favoured as middle-order batters, despite Head averaging more than 50 in Tests since the 2021-2022 season. Australia's selection of two off-spinners marks the first time the Test team has done so in 35 years.
This tour is Australia's fifth to India in the last 19 years but they have won just one Test match there since - in 2017. However, Australia head into the first Test as the world's No.1 ranked team after losing just one match since Pat Cummins became red-ball captain in November 2021.
India will be without injured quick Jasprit Bumrah and matchwinning wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, who was seriously hurt in a car accident in December.
Confirmation of the line-ups. Not surprising to see two debutants for India and Todd Murphy's maiden cap for Australia. The real surprise is Aus getting Peter Handscomb in for Travis Head. Does the patch created for the left-handers at the south end have anything to do with it? pic.twitter.com/8VZXLQJzRc
— Amol Karhadkar (@karhacter) February 9, 2023
Travis Head sensationally dropped by Australia for the first Test.
— Daniel Cherny (@DanielCherny) February 9, 2023
Travis Head, Australia's best batter during the recent home summer, has been dropped for the first Test in Nagpur.#INDvAUS
— Nic Savage (@nic_savage1) February 9, 2023
Travis Head has been dropped and Matthew Renshaw will play in his place!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/suQO9sWEvd
— Peter Lalor (@plalor) February 9, 2023
— Jordan Vella (@JordanVella6) February 9, 2023
Australian cricket great Adam Gilchrist bullish about India chances
Australian Test great Adam Gilchrist believes Australia can emulate the 'golden generation' team and breach what Steve Waugh often referred to as the 'final frontier'. "There's not going to be anything easy and it's not going to be a walk in the park, but it is their best chance and I expect them to do really, really well," the Fox Cricket talent and commentator told AAP.
"The balance of their squad and how experienced the team is now is important."
Gilchrist pointed to similarities between this team and the 2004 squad having recent experiences playing in Asia. Australia claimed a tense 1-0 victory in Pakistan last March and drew 1-1 against Sri Lanka across two Tests in Galle in July.
"They've had a number of tours to subcontinental countries to gain and learn from and that was what held us up in 2004," Gilchrist said. "We were very well planned and prepared due to the experiences we had, both positive and negative, previously in the subcontinent.
"This group of players has built up that bank of knowledge and the skills that they have, so they have a very good chance of winning."
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