‘Scarcity of skillset’ – selector George Bailey highlights Australia’s bare spin cupboard

Australia is a resource-rich country. Minerals and fast bowlers are in rich abundance. But the Pakistan Test tour, as successful as it was for Australia, exposed a scarcity of spin resources moving forward towards six Tests in Sri Lanka and India over the next 12 months.

With senior spinner Nathan Lyon, who bowled beautifully in Lahore to help Australia close out the series 1-0, turning 35 this November, Australia named six specialist spinners across the Test and A squads for their concurrent tours of Sri Lanka.

“It’s as much about a scarcity of skillset,” Australia’s chairman of selectors George Bailey said. “If you look around Australia, we don’t have a heap of well-established spinners. [Murphy] is certainly behind Nathan Lyon as far as offspinners go. He looks really promising. So it’s exciting to get him across there along with Tanveer Sangha, who has had some opportunities in the past, and Matthew Kuhnemann as well.

“It’s a little bit about exposing those rarer skillsets as far as [possible], but really important skillsets for these types of tours.”

Although Lyon bowled Australia to victory on the final day of the third Test in Pakistan, the lion’s share of Australia’s pressure on the hosts’ batters throughout a brutal series for the bowlers was done by their quicks. Swepson made his debut and played as the second spinner in a four-man attack, with the support of allrounder Cameron Green in the last two Tests.

Swepson bowled better than his figures suggested on surfaces that were nowhere near as conducive for spin as what is likely to come in Sri Lanka, and will have been better for the experience.

Murphy’s inclusion in the A squad is a bolt from the blue, not dissimilar to Lyon’s own inclusion on the 2011 Sri Lanka tour, when he had made his Test debut.

The Victoria offspinner has played just two first-class matches but starred in his last outing, taking 4 for 98 and 3 for 48 against Tasmania to help Victoria reach the Sheffield Shield final. He also made a critical 24* with the bat, adding an unbroken 47 for the ninth wicket in the fourth innings to help Victoria chase down 231 with two wickets to spare.

However, Murphy was left out of the last Shield game of the season and the final that followed, as Victoria opted to play just one specialist spinner in Jon Holland at the WACA.

“[He’s] really consistent,” Bailey said of Murphy. “He’s probably played a little bit more one-day cricket than red-ball. Experienced players have found him hard to get away in one-day cricket. Obviously, he had that particularly strong game against Tasmania. We’re really excited for Todd.”

Kuhnemann, a left-arm orthodox spinner, has played ten first-class matches but already has three five-wicket hauls in Shield cricket for Queensland. Legspinner Sangha has played six first-class matches, taking 17 wickets for New South Wales but he has been on Australia’s radar in the past, having toured twice with the T20I squads in 2021.

Swepson and Agar are the two specialist white-ball spinners in Australia’s squads, with Adam Zampa missing the tour due to the birth of his child and Lyon not in the white-ball set-ups.

As a result, all three youngsters could play for Australia A, with Swepson and Agar unlikely to be given a warm-up for the Tests since both men will be needed in the senior team’s ODI series against Sri Lanka, which clashes with the A side’s two four-day matches. The Australia A four-day games run from June 14 to June 24, which is the precise duration of the five-match ODI series.

Whether Australia opt for three spinners in the Test team remains to be seen. They played two spinners for two Tests in Pakistan, leaving out Josh Hazlewood, and yet Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins combined for 20 wickets in the series while Lyon and Swepson took just 14, with Lyon bagging 12, including five in the final innings in Lahore.

“We have to be open to playing three spinners. That’s one of the great things about having a little bit of depth in that area”

Australia’s chairman of selectors George Bailey

Marnus Labuschagne only bowled 31 overs in the series with his part-time legspin, including just four in the final two Tests when Swepson played, and just one out of 171.4 overs in the final innings in Karachi, where Pakistan famously held on for a draw. Labuschagne has a better strike rate with the ball in both Test and first-class cricket than Agar, who last played a Test in 2017 in Bangladesh as part of a three-pronged spin attack.

However, Bailey said three spinners won’t be ruled out of the equation for the two Tests in Galle, with the first starting on June 29.

“Recent history in Galle would suggest that it’s going to be conducive to spin, so there’s a chance that we go in with a similar sort of make-up to what we did finish with in Pakistan – with the extra spinner and one fast bowler short,” Bailey said.

“Absolutely, I think we have to be open to the possibility of playing three spinners. We have seen it done once in the past, I think, in a Test match in Bangladesh. And again, we’ll just assess that. That’s one of the great things about having a little bit of depth in that area with Ash Agar, Mitch Swepson, and Nathan Lyon; you’ve got all bases covered there.

“And some exciting young Aussie A spinners as well, so good to expose them to Sri Lankan conditions.”

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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