Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia spinners on notice for SCG call-up
National selection panel chair Trevor Hohns and Test captain Tim Paine both raise potential for a second spinner in New Year's Test
Andrew Ramsey in Adelaide
3 December 2019, 05:07 PM AEST
Australia's auxiliary spinners have been formally placed on notice to maintain their red-ball skills during the upcoming KFC Big Bash League, just in case they're needed for the summer's final Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Selectors today named 13 players for the three-match Domain Test Series that begins in Perth on December 12, with five fast bowlers and a solitary specialist spinner (Nathan Lyon) in that squad.
However, national selection panel chair Trevor Hohns and Test captain Tim Paine both indicated an additional spinner might be needed for the third match against the Black Caps given early-season indications the SCG is more conducive to slow bowling than seamers.
And while noting the lack of a second spinner staking a claim for Test selection in the Marsh Sheffield Shield remains "an issue", Hohns will be contacting the most likely contenders and telling them to keep their first-class skills sharp as the men's domestic competition moves into T20 mode later this month.
"We will be putting a couple of spinners on notice to make sure they’re doing extra work in case they’re required," Hohns said today.
"I won’t nominate them now, because they haven’t been informed.
"But we're going into a Big Bash period, so we’ll want anyone nominated to be doing extra work throughout the Big Bash series."
Hohns' unwillingness to identify the spinners who are in the frame for a call-up to the Test squad, if conditions dictate, might be partly founded in the absence of recent form lines the Sheffield Shield competition provides.
The top 17 places on the Shield wicket-taking ladder for 2019-20 are occupied by seamers, with the most successful spinner to date being New South Wales' left-armer Stephen O'Keefe whose 10 wickets at 18.70 from three games includes 5-80 against Victoria in the recent draw at the MCG.
Next on the supplementary spinners list is Queensland leg spinner Mitchell Swepson (10 wickets at 21.20 from three matches, including a hat-trick at the MCG), and then Victoria's Jon Holland whose left-arm orthodox has netted eight wickets at 59.25.
The other spinner who may figure in discussions between Hohns and his fellow selector, men's team coach Justin Langer (new selector George Bailey doesn't join the panel until completion of his BBL commitments), is Western Australia's Ashton Agar.
Agar has taken just three wickets at an average of 136 in four Shield matches this season, but has compiled 262 runs at 52.40 with two half-centuries, and is also an outstanding fielder.
Given the form of Australia's top-order in the recent two-nil Domain Series win over Pakistan, if the SCG pitch is likely to prove hard work for bowlers the selectors might consider including Agar as a middle-order batter and part of a five-pronged bowling line-up.
It's the placid nature shown by pitches at the MCG and SCG so far this summer, as well as the short (three days) break between the Boxing Day and New Year Tests that has led the selectors to retain five quicks in the current 13-man squad.
Of that group, Michael Neser will play for Queensland in their upcoming Shield game against NSW, while James Pattinson is expected to be rested from Victoria's next Shield fixture and, instead, be part of the Test squad that gathers in Perth this weekend.
Hohns indicated that the proximity of Tests over the Christmas-New Year period coupled with the volume of overs bowlers are likely to send down in Melbourne and Sydney means selectors will consider re-instituting the management plan for quicks that was employed during this year's five-match Ashes series.
"That’s the only two Test matches this summer that are very close together, so we’ll obviously be very careful about monitoring the bowlers workloads," he said.
Hohns also dismissed any concerns about the fitness of Test spearhead Mitchell Starc, who was clearly in discomfort while bowling during Pakistan's second innings in Adelaide but has revealed that pain is the result of a cut on his foot that has led to the imminent loss of a toe nail.
However, the selection chair was less definitive about the extent of finger problems sustained by Paine, who copped a couple of blows from the pink ball while keeping during the day-night Test.
Paine revealed at game's end he had not re-injured the right index finger that has troubled him since sustaining a serious fracture nine years ago, but declined to elaborate on the nature of the trouble other than to note he was used copping hits on the hand and "will be fine" for the NZ series.
When Hohns was asked about Paine's fitness, he indicated the skipper had been checked out in the immediate aftermath of the Test last night and given the all-clear, but with the distinct caveat that no concerns existed as of this morning.
"Tim is a tough guy of course and most wicketkeepers are, so they give you very little, but at the moment there’s no cause for concern over Tim’s fitness," Hohns said.
Similarly, Hohns is unfazed by the absence of a spare specialist batter in the Test set-up after Cameron Bancoft was omitted from the 14-man squad taken into the Pakistan series.
Part of the reason for Bancroft's inclusion in the previous squad was the recent change in Test match playing conditions to allow for concussion substitutes, and the opener was seen as someone who could slot into any specialist batting berth in the top six if required.
However, the fact that the next round of Sheffield Shield matches will have been completed two days before the first Test against NZ begins means there will be a number of potential replacements available should a substitution be needed.
"If we have that situation, we are very comfortable that we’ll have players available, and available to come in pretty quickly," Hohns said.
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)