Arthur backs Lyon despite axe
Coach Mickey Arthur has said Australia's axing of Nathan Lyon for another spinner for the first time in his Test career does not mean he has lost the confidence of the selectors.
Lyon was left out of the Hyderabad Test after taking 4 for 244 in Chennai and instead the team relied on Xavier Doherty and Glenn Maxwell for its spin requirements, a plan that by the end of the second day had failed to bring a wicket as M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara dominated proceedings.
The only other time Lyon had been left out since making his debut in Sri Lanka in 2011 was against India at the WACA in January 2012, when four fast men were chosen on a bouncy pitch. Arthur said Lyon needed to work on some technical aspects of his game after the Chennai defeat and also had to regain his confidence after being battered by MS Dhoni during his remarkable double-century.
"Nathan and I have spoken at length about the summer he's had," Arthur said. "Nathan is going to be a very good spin bowler bowler for Australia. It doesn't mean we don't back him anymore, we just think it was the right time after Chennai just to give him a little bit of a break. He had a couple of technical things that we wanted to work on a little bit away from the game but still being on tour, which we've done, and we are confident he will bounce back really strong.
"We also felt he needed to come to terms with a couple of things and he's done that. He was ill yesterday and didn't come to the ground but he was here today and he'll get his strength up. I don't want to go into what we are working on. There are one or two technical things plus we want him to get a little bit of confidence back."
Arthur said the rationale behind choosing Doherty was that Australia wanted a spinner who could turn the ball away from India's top six, all of whom are right-handers. Maxwell, he said, was chosen as a backup spinner who could also offer plenty with the bat and in the field. At stumps on the second day, Doherty had taken 0 for 85 and Maxwell had 0 for 55.
"We thought the Indian middle-order played the offspin particularly well in Chennai," Arthur said. "We wanted somebody who could turn it away as our primary resource, which gave Xavier an opportunity. I thought he went very well today, he toiled manfully. He went about three an over which was pretty decent. Xavier gave us what we know Xavier can.
"Glenn was always going to be the other option. We felt that we would have another spinner and if we had another spinner, we wanted a guy who would bring more to the party. He was another allrounder, a guy that could bat eight and bat deep for us and give us something in the field. That's what we want with Maxi primarily as the second spinner."
Arthur conceded that Maxwell had bowled "not very well today" but hoped he had learnt a lot from the experience of working against such good players of spin. Maxwell, Doherty, Lyon and the batting allrounder Steven Smith were the spin options in Australia's squad, while the leading Sheffield Shield spinner this season, Steve O'Keefe, was overlooked. O'Keefe has 17 wickets at 26.76 this summer and took eight in a match just before the squad was picked.
"Stephen O'Keefe has got a really good record," Arthur said. "Xavier Doherty bowled outstandingly well for us in the one-day series against Sri Lanka. Michael Beer would have been here if he didn't get injured. That caused us to reshuffle a little bit. We picked Xavier over Stephen primarily because we thought Xavier was bowling exceptionally well, which he was in the one-day series at that particular time."
Not that Australia's dire situation after two days in Hyderabad was all down to the bowling. The batsmen let the team down severely on the first day by stumbling to 63 for 4 before Michael Clarke and Matthew Wade rescued them from embarrassment. Still, Australia's 237 for 9 was already looking paltry a day later when India went to stumps at 311 for 1.
"We had a pretty tough chat with our batsmen this morning because we thought they'd probably wasted a bit of an opportunity yesterday," Arthur said. "I do think we should have got more in our first innings without a doubt."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here