Australian Test skipper Pat Cummins said on Monday that with the recent performances against West Indies and South Africa at home and previous year’s tours to Pakistan and Sri Lanka, his team has given itself their “best chance” at capturing the prestigious Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Indian conditions.
India will start its trophy defence at home from February 9 onwards. India is a place Australia has struggled historically, having won only four-Test series in the cricket-crazy nation in the 75-year cricketing history between these two decorated sides.
“I think we have given ourselves the best chance,” Cummins was quoted by cricket.com.au on being asked about chances of series win in India.
“I feel like we’re adapting really well. Having the experience in Sri Lanka and Pakistan last year has put us in really good stead for India, no-one’s going over there blind.””We will use the next few weeks to perhaps reflect on the last 12 months, and then get over there really refreshed and eager. I think we are as good a chance as we are ever going to be,” he concluded his point.
The skipper also confirmed that spinner Ashton Agar and batter Travis Head, who can also bowl spin part-time, will be a key part of Australia’s bowling plans in Indian conditions, which suits spinners.
Pat Cummins and Co expected a spin-friendly track at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). But rain ruined the plans of Aussies as the pitch stewed under covers and heavy clouds instead of baking and crumbling under normal conditions. Spinners struggled under such conditions and with both sides combined, they returned back with figures of 4/437 in almost 300 overs.
But performances from Agar and Travis impressed Cummins and he confirmed how crucial they will be for the BGT next month. Australia’s last series win past 50 years came in 2004 and the touring party will be announced this week.
“Ash will be there, a left-arm orthodox … he will absolutely be there. It was not an audition at all (for the India tour). This wicket’s (SCG wicket) a bit different to India, it was not really spinning out of the middle of the wicket,” said Cummins.
“An Indian wicket sometimes really breaks up, even from the middle of the wicket, and a left-arm orthodox becomes a bit more effective against right-hand batters. I thought he did really well,” added the skipper.
The Indian team is without the services of its young star Rishabh Pant, who is undergoing treatment after a recent car accident. India has a lot of right-hand batters at the moment. Australia were keen to see that how Agar will perform given his counter-point to Lyon’s off-spin.
Lyon was the only spinner who took multiple wickets on a Sydney surface where the seamers dominated, taking two scalps in SA’s first innings. He will be a key part of Aussies’ strategy of slow bowling in India where conditions can vary.
Cummins also indicated that Australia wants to have all their options, like Head and occasional leggies Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne available for the series.
Cameron Green’s return from a finger injury will also strengthen the side, admitted the skipper. Green had missed the last Test against Proteas due to that injury and is not guaranteed to get fit for the start of the BGT series.
The skipper said that though Green will be automatically included following his recovery, there are so many bowling prospects of for India that Australia would not confine itself to the template of two quicks, two spinners and an all-rounder.
“Cam Green bats at six, so you have got three quick bowlers which is a bit of luxury as it is . He showed his class (taking five wickets at the MCG) so no qualms picking him – you know what you are going to get, and it is quality.
“Over there, if you are picking two spinners you think it is going to be quite a spinning wicket and Travis Head, Marnus, Smudge (Steve Smith), they all come into it a bit more.”
“Generally, if you are picking two spinners you are not expecting it to be a really long five-day game, and we have got some other resources there anyway.”
“Trav is a slightly different off-spin bowler to Nath (Lyon), a bit flatter which could be really helpful over there.”
“I have been really happy with how he (Head) has bowled, and probably under-bowled him even in this game.”
“So he will be a big part of our team over there. I think our squad will have basically all possibilities. It is a big series, so we want everything at our disposal,” concluded Cummins.
Cummins said that leg spinner Mitchell Swepson, who was part of Australia’s similar tour to spin-friendly grounds of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, was “definitely part of future plans for the Aussie team”.
Josh Hazlewood, who had featured in only one of five Tests in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has strengthened his claims for a spot in playing eleven. Cummins also confirmed that reverse swing specialist Mitchell Starc will miss the first Test against India at least as he continues to recover from a finger injury as well.
Hazlewood could not participate in the final Test against the Windies and the first two Tests against Proteas, but bowled excellently at SCG in the final Test where his reverse swing mastery was evident to all. Hazlewood could prove to be valuable in India while Starc could stays in sidelines.
“I thought Joshy, the way he bowled throughout the whole game but especially that reversing ball, the way he can change his action and control the seam was fantastic.
“And I certainly took a little bit out of it myself. It probably was not a classic India wicket (at the SCG) as you might expect. Maybe one game it is three quicks, maybe another it is one quick. We will get over there and see,” said the skipper.
Cummins said that the only negative from the rain-truncated SCG Test was that a recalled Matt Renshaw could get to bat for only 11 balls and he finished five not out, after re-entering the Test arena after five long years.
He also said that Peter Handscomb, who was in SCG as a substitute fielder was also in the mix for the tour to India. Hadscomb had played his final Test of 16 Test long career against India at the SCG four years back. But he has an experience on subcontinent pitches of India and Bangladesh, where he has featured in six matches and has a solid average of 34.
“He has a huge chance over in India,” Cummins said of Handscomb who has an ODI hundred to his name in India in 2019.
“He has played really well over in Bangladesh, and India he has been there before and even in white-ball he has done well over there.”
“He has obviously earned the right by scoring lots of runs in Shield cricket, so I am sure come selection time he will be there or thereabouts.”:
“It is always nice having a right-hander as well, as a different option – we have got plenty of left-handers,” concluded Cummins.