Australia’s back-up spinners have been told to step up and be ready for a Sydney call-up after selectors picked a virtually unchanged squad for the New Zealand Test series.
Reserve batsman Cameron Bancroft was on Tuesday left out of the squad for the three Tests, the only alteration to the group that thumped Pakistan 2-0.
It means Travis Head, who remains joint vice-captain with Cummins, is certain to retain his spot in the batting line-up for the first Test against the Black Caps next Thursday in Perth. Pacemen James Pattinson and Michael Neser have also kept their spot in the squad as extra bowlers, with Neser to be released back to play Sheffield Shield this weekend.
But Australia’s chief selector Trevor Hohns indicated an extra player could potentially be brought in for the third Test in Sydney, if a spin-friendly pitch looks likely.
The only problem for selectors is that there is no clear back-up to Nathan Lyon at this stage. No spinner features in the top 15 wicket takers of the Sheffield Shield, with Stephen O’Keefe and Mitchell Swepson’s 10 scalps the best returns from the first four rounds. Regular back-up Ashton Agar, who could play as an all-rounder, has taken just three wickets at an average of 136 for Western Australia.
“It is a bit of an issue for us, we’re really focusing on our spin bowling department at the moment,” Hohns said. “We will be putting a couple of spinners on notice to make sure they are doing extra work as required.
“Because we are going into a Big Bash period, so we will want anybody nominated to do extra work through the Big Bash series.”
Sydney would also likely be the only time a change to the bowling line-up is made, given the close proximity between it and Melbourne’s Boxing Day Test. Another spinning option could be to rely on the work of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.
Otherwise, Monday night’s selection meeting was likely the easiest Australia’s panel has had in years. The team’s 2-0 thumping of Pakistan has given a previously unstable side some breathing space, with Joe Burns safe as David Warner’s opening partner and Labuschagne a lock at No.3.
Mitchell Starc was the leading wicket taker with 14 after being overlooked for the majority of the Ashes, and there are no fears over his fitness after cutting his big toe. However, a far tougher test is expected against New Zealand.
“It’s nice to have a couple of very, very good wins, it (selection) has been quite relaxing, to be honest,” Hohns said.
Hohns also said there was no concern over captain Tim Paine, who sustained a series of blows to his fingers while wicketkeeping against Pakistan.
Australia squad: Tim Paine (captain), Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.