Sri Lanka v Australia Tests - Men
Swepson gets the nod, Aussies ponder Head's fitness
Leg-spinner Mitch Swepson holds his spot in Australia's XI for the first Test against Sri Lanka with Glenn Maxwell to replace Travis Head if he doesn't recover from a hamstring injury
Louis Cameron in Galle
28 June 2022, 06:00 PM AEST
Mitch Swepson has held his spot for the Test series opener against Sri Lanka as part of a bold Australian move to buck conventional wisdom in finger-spin friendly Galle.
The tourists however are yet to announce their XI with the fitness of Travis Head, who is recovering from a hamstring strain, still uncertain on the eve of their first Test in Sri Lanka in six years.
Pat Cummins confirmed Glenn Maxwell will play should Head not be deemed fit, while Jon Holland was not considered for the second spinner's spot that Swepson has held due to a finger injury.
It means that at a venue where accurate finger-spin is king, their two first-choice left-arm spinners were unavailable to partner Nathan Lyon with Ashton Agar still sidelined with a side strain.
Only once in the past six-and-a-half years has a team gone into a Test at Galle without at least two frontline finger-spinners.
Wrist-spinners have not been completely ignored at the venue that sits in the shadow a historic Dutch fort, but they are generally seen as a luxury and overall they average nearly 40 in the last 10 Tests played in Galle.
Such is the Galle pitch's suitability to spin, when they have played it has generally been as part of a three-spinner attack, which Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne hinted his side is leaning towards against Australia.
But his counterpart Cummins insisted Australia must go about it their own way.
"We're really happy with 'Swepo'," he said. "He is bowling beautifully and really ready for this one.
"These conditions … it's quite different to what we experience in Australia. That's the challenge of trying to win overseas.
"A lot of our preparation work has been around trusting our own methods. We might go about it a little bit differently to how Sri Lanka will."
Holland, who hadn't bowled since the last day of the Sheffield Shield final in early April, had been rushed to the island to play in last week's Australia A four-day game in Hambantota.
But the Victorian suffered a painful cut to his left index finger at training before the match against Sri Lanka A and it is yet to heal.
Agar still looms as a chance of resuming his Test career in the country his mother was born in, but is now targeting the second match beginning Friday week.
Swepson averaged 133 in his maiden Test campaign against Pakistan but will undoubtedly gain more assistance from the conditions in Sri Lanka.
"I think his role here might be slightly different as well," said Cummins. "Pakistan we knew was going to be a slow grind and I thought he did his job despite not taking the wickets he would like. He was a really important cog in that bowling engine.
"It's always exciting having a leggie in the side as a captain. It feels like a real luxury to throw him the ball and see him go about it."
The importance of Swepson and Lyon will be heightened given how ground staff, while ensuring the first-Test pitch is bone dry, have kept the rest of wicket table well-watered.
That will mean reverse swing, which requires abrasive surfaces to bounce off to scuff up one side of the ball, could be harder to come by and leave pace duo Cummins and Mitchell Starc without their main weapon on the subcontinent.
"The numbers suggest there won't be as much reverse here as Pakistan or maybe other places in Sri Lanka," said Cummins.
"Maybe our roles as quick bowlers change a little bit. You have to find other ways to be creative. Maybe it is more bouncers, different field placements, and we use 'Swepo' and 'Lyno' to attack a bit more.
"It's going to be part of the fun."
Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka Test squad: Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Pathum Nissanka, Oshada Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kamindu Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Ramesh Mendis, Chamika Karunaratne, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Praveen Jayawickrama, Lasith Embuldeniya, Jeffrey Vandersay. Standby players: Dunith Wellalage, Lakshitha Rasanjana.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. Standby players: Jon Holland, Matthew Kuhnemann, Todd Murphy
June 29 - July 3: First Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
July 8-12: Second Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
Sri Lanka v Australia Test matches will be screened live on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports