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January 31, 2013
Ian Chappell : Spin could be Australia's Achilles heel in India
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Australia have confirmed a 17-man squad for their upcoming four-Test tour of India with the allrounders Moises Henriques and Glenn Maxwell the only two uncapped members of the group. The touring party also includes Steven Smith and Xavier Doherty, neither of whom has played Test cricket since their cameo roles in the 2010-11 Ashes debacle, along with Usman Khawaja as a potential No.6 and a five-man pace-bowling group.
James Pattinson is back in the mix after making his Sheffield Shield return last week following two months on the sidelines due to a rib/side injury and will form the pace corps along with Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird. The veteran Ben Hilfenhaus, who has not played since breaking down during the Hobart Test in December, was not selected, and nor was Steve O'Keefe, the leading spinner in the Sheffield Shield this summer.
The large squad is an attempt to cover all bases as the Australians acclimatise to life without both Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, and with Shane Watson having given up the idea of being an allrounder for the time being. Now a specialist batsman, Watson is likely to slot straight back into the top order for the first Test in Chennai on February 22 after sitting out of international cricket since re-injuring his calf during the Boxing Day Test.
"It is a large squad and we felt as though we needed that for flexibility," John Inverarity, the national selector, said. "We're certainly looking for a right-arm finger-spinner and a left-arm finger-spinner. Xavier [Doherty] has been bowling very well lately. The four contenders for that position [were] Jon Holland, Michael Beer, Xavier Doherty and Stephen O'Keefe. Two of those [Holland and Beer] are injured and we preferred Xavier Doherty to Stephen O'Keefe."
The presence of Maxwell and Smith also provides the option of allrounders who can bowl offspin or legspin respectively, although Smith has hardly bowled this Sheffield Shield season and has been included largely as a backup batsman. Smith, who is still only 23, played five Tests in 2010 and 2011 but struggled to justify his inclusion as either a batsman or bowler, but Inverarity said he had been impressed by the development of Smith's batting.
"Steve Smith has matured a lot," Inverarity said. "A lot of his play this year he has played especially well, although he hasn't gone through to the big scores. His score [of 72] just recently in the Shield match was very good against Western Australia in Sydney. We see him as a young player of the future, enormous potential and one thing in particular in his favour is he uses his feet really well and plays spin bowling really well. He will be there as a backup batsman and certainly to gain experience. We're really hoping that he's one of the players who comes through in the next couple of years."
Another man who fits that category is Henriques, who won his position thanks to Watson's decision to concentrate on his batting. The selectors were keen to include a seam-bowling allrounder and injuries to Mitchell Marsh and Andrew McDonald, and a disappointing summer for Daniel Christian, left Henriques, who has averaged 77 with the bat and with the ball this Sheffield Shield season, as the leading candidate.
"It's a very good test for him," Inverarity said. "We feel there's a great need to have an allrounder there and Moises is a young cricketer of terrific potential. We're hoping he really comes though. He's got a lot of talent and we're hoping that being around the Australian group brings out the best in him."
The balance of Australia's side for the four Tests in India will depend on how the selectors decide to structure the attack, and while Inverarity said they were keen to have five bowling options in a match, he also indicated Usman Khawaja had a strong chance of playing the first Test in Chennai.
"Usman is very much to the fore of our thinking," Inverarity said. "I was in Canberra the other day when he got 69 [for the Prime Minister's XI] against the West Indies and played really well. I think Usman is a very good chance of being in the first Test team."
Inverarity is also confident that David Warner will be part of that side in Chennai, despite suffering a fractured thumb after being hit by Johnson in the WACA nets on Wednesday while training ahead of the first ODI against West Indies. It appears unlikely that Warner will take any part in the one-day series, although Inverarity said he was expected to be fit for the Tests in India.
"The chances are very good," Inverarity said. "The early indication is it's a slight fracture. The indications are he'll certainly be okay for the Test starting on the 22nd of February, and what we're looking to do is during the next couple of days get more feedback as to exactly when he'll be able to come back ... But I'd say the chances are that it's unlikely that he'll be playing the ODIs at this stage."
Some members of the Test squad will fly to India while the West Indies limited-overs series is still on, in order to better prepare them for the Indian conditions. The trip begins with two warm-up games in Chennai on February 12-13 and February 16-18. Splitting the squad is required because the West Indies series does not finish until February 13, when the teams play a Twenty20 in Brisbane.
Squad David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (capt), Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade (wk), Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Johnson, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle, Jackson Bird, Xavier Doherty, Nathan Lyon.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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