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Australia have included uncapped leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson in their side for the upcoming four-Test tour of India next month.
Swepson, who is currently involved in the Big Bash League (BBL) with the Brisbane Heat, has featured in just 14 first-class matches and taken 41 wickets at an average of 32.82.
Swepson is one of five spinners Australia have picked as Nathan Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Ashton Agar and all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, who was recalled, also found a place in the side.
Like Maxwell, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh also returned at the expense of fellow all-rounder Hilton Cartwright, who made his debut in the third Test against Pakistan in Sydney earlier this month.
Specialist batsman Shaun Marsh, who has been nursing a finger injury, was also recalled, while Matthew Wade retained his place as Australia’s go-to wicketkeeper.
Even though the squad has a number of spinners given the spin-friendly conditions in India, interim chairman of the selectors Trevor Hohns pointed out that there was no space in the side for Victoria left-arm spinner Jon Holland.
“He is an exciting young legspinner, gives the ball a very good rip,” Hohns said. “He’s a wicket-taking legspinner. At the end of the day, you’ve got to take wickets to win Test matches, and given the opportunity we feel that he could play a part over there. If he doesn’t, he’ll gain a lot from the experience of being there.”
South Australia leg-spinner Adam Zampa, who has only played limited overs cricket to date for the national team, was also “reasonably close” to being selected, according to Hohns.
“Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe one would expect would be our two frontline spinners,” he said. “The other two are there for backup, or if we need a third spinner, if the conditions suit that type of bowling … Yes, there are two left-arm spinners there, but they’re both different types. We’ve got Stephen O’Keefe, who is a lot shorter, and we’ve got a tall left-arm spinner who gets good bounce.
“It was certainly nice to see Lyon bowl well in the last two Test matches here in Australia. He did go through a period of time where he possibly … wasn’t bowling that well. But to see him bowl in Melbourne and then back that up in Sydney, we don’t have any great concerns about his bowling at the moment.”
There have been concerns about batsman Usman Khawaja’s performance in the subcontinent to date as he has not been able to pass fifty in his last 14 innings.
Nonetheless, Hohns is confident that the 30-year-old will snap that trend this time around.
“We see Usman as one of our best five or six batsmen,” Hohns said. “He’s included because of that, and we would expect Usman to do everything he possibly can to improve his play. He wasn’t great in Sri Lanka, and he knows that and understands that, so we want to see him improve his play in those conditions against spin bowling. He’s one of our best batsmen, so there’s no reason why he can’t do the job.”
There is also debate as to whether Shaun Marsh or Matt Renshaw will open the batting as the latter did so during Marsh’s time on the sidelines.
As of now, Hohns admitted that Renshaw is the “front-runner” to open the batting with David Warner.
“I guess it points in that direction at the moment,” Hohns said. “Once again, we’ll have to see – there is a practice game in Mumbai before the first Test match. There’s the UAE practice match. We’ll assess that at the time. But at the moment, he’s done extremely well and probably is a front-runner, yes.”
Prior to the Test series in India, which begins on February 23 in Pune, Australia will have a training camp at the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Academy in Dubai.
Australia Test squad: Steven Smith (capt), David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade (wk), Mitchell Marsh, Ashton Agar, Steve O’Keefe, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon.