Qantas Tour of South Africa

Holland recalled as Lyon's understudy

Prolific Sheffield Shield form rewarded with trip to South Africa but Aussies not expecting to play two spinners

Andrew Ramsey

22 January 2018, 01:44 PM

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Even though he's unlikely to figure in the Tests barring an injury to incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon, Victoria's 'forgotten man' Jon Holland is the latest selection bolter after he was included in Australia's squad for the upcoming Qantas Tour of South Africa.

Holland, who played two Tests for Australia as a late call-up during the 2016 tour to Sri Lanka but was not chosen for the Test outfit's subsequent visits to the subcontinent, was named as a back-up to premier spinner Lyon for the four-Test series against the Proteas.

It represents a remarkable turnaround for the 30-year-old who acknowledged last month, when he was overlooked for the potential role of second spinner at the fifth Test against England in Sydney, that he did not expect another opportunity to pull on the Baggy Green Cap.

Holland has not played for Australia in any format since he was added to the squad for the final two matches of the 2016 tour to Sri Lanka, his call-up then being precipitated by injury to fellow left-arm spinner Steve O'Keefe who injured a hamstring during the opening Test.

Jon Holland's first day in the Baggy Green

The Victorian finished that disastrous series for Steve Smith's team, which they lost 0-3 to an unheralded Sri Lanka line-up, with five wickets at an average of 54.80 while the home team's left-arm spinner Rangana Herath captured 28 at 12.75 from three appearances.

Despite being the most successful spinner in Australia first-class ranks since that Sri Lanka series, Holland was then snubbed in favour of O'Keefe for last year's Test tour to India with uncapped leg spinner Mitchell Swepson also included for that campaign.

Then, when seamer Josh Hazlewood broke down during Australia's two-Test visit to Bangladesh late last year, O'Keefe was added to the squad and rushed directly into the starting XI for the second Test.

So the call-up of Holland, who has taken 11 wickets at 18.64 for Victoria in two JLT Sheffield Shield matches so far this summer having missed the opening games due to knee surgery, represents a selection shock to rival the recall of former Test keeper Tim Paine at the start of the Magellan Ashes Series.

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That's largely because selectors had added fellow left-arm spinner Ashton Agar to the Test squad for the final match of that series against England in Sydney before opting to stick with their three-man pace attack (plus Lyon).

As a result, Holland conceded that his days as a Test cricketer were likely finished, with the selectors indicating they preferred the all-round package that 24-year-old Agar (an accomplished batter and fielder) offered if a second spinner was required.

"I'm not sure why I wasn't picked in the Sydney Test as a second spinner," Holland said today, adding the call from selector Trevor Hohns confirming his recall had come as a "shock".

"Maybe Ashton was going to be an allrounder or something like that. So I'm not sure what the selectors are thinking. But to get called up, I'm not going to knock it back."

Agar undone for a duck by Holland jaffa

In citing Holland's likely role as a back-up should fate rob Australia of Lyon's services, the selectors have effectively confirmed that the Victorian is the nation's next-best frontline spinner rather than being the preferred option as a second spinner.

The historical reality is that pitches in South Africa are seamer-friendly, meaning the likelihood of playing two spinners in a Test there is remote unless pitches resemble the dry, turning wicket that was produced for the recent Test between the Proteas and India at Centurion.

However, that would seem an unlikely scenario given that South Africa's success against the world's top-ranked Test team in past weeks has been built on the dominance of their fast bowling complement led by Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and newly capped Lungi Ngidi.

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With the prospect of veteran quick Dale Steyn having recovered from his current heel ailment in time for the Australia series that begins at Durban, a renowned seam bowlers' venue, on March 1.

The most recent occurrence of Australia playing two specialist spinners in a Test on South Africa soil was in March 1994, when leg spinner Shane Warne was joined by off-spinner Tim May in a match that the Proteas won by 197 runs.

In addition, left-arm finger spinners have traditionally struggled to make an impact in Tests in South Africa with Herath – the most successful orthodox spinner the game has seen – returning 16 wickets at 35.31 (compared to his career average of 28.06) from his six appearances there.

That fact has been acknowledged by chair of the national selection panel, Trevor Hohns, who claimed in announcing the 15-man squad today that Holland was essentially included as an understudy for Lyon.

"We envisage the wickets we will see in South Africa will not warrant the need to play two spinners," Hohns said.

"Therefore, should Nathan not be able to play at any stage, we wanted to have the best specialist spinner available to us and based on current red-ball form Jon warrants that spot."

Holland takes four wickets in 11 balls in Darwin

Having voiced his disappointment at being overlooked when a second spinner was being contemplated for the final Ashes Test, Holland claimed he took solace from this month's recall of Victoria teammate Cameron White to Australia's one-day team for the Gillette ODI Series against England.

Like Holland, 34-year-old White had voiced his disillusionment with the selection process having been repeatedly overlooked for national honours in the past three years despite his heavy scoring in all formats for Victoria.

But when he was included in the squad for the five-match ODI campaign, Holland accepted that performances at domestic level did play a significant role in national selection discussions and that the hope he had seemingly abandoned last month was rekindled. 

"I don't think I'd given up," he said today.

"I defintely thought maybe my time had started to go past me, but it hasn't. I get another opportunity and hopefully I can make the most of it."

Holland receives his Baggy Green cap

AUSTRALIA TEST SQUAD: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird, Jon Holland, Jhye Richardson.

Qantas tour of South Africa

Warm-up match v SA Invitational XI, Sahara Park, Benoni, Feb 22-24

First Test Kingsmead, Durban, March 1-5

Second Test St George's Park, Port Elizabeth, March 9-13

Third Test Newlands, Cape Town, March 22-26

Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3