Symonds out, McGain in for India
Andrew Symonds will not play Australia's Tests in India while the incumbent slow bowler Beau Casson has also been overlooked in favour of the uncapped 36-year-old legspinner Bryce McGain. Shane Watson returns to the Test frame and the bowlers Jason Krejza and Peter Siddle are hoping for debuts after joining a 15-man squad with several changes to the group that visited the West Indies this year.
Australia are pleased with Ricky Ponting's recovery from wrist surgery and Matthew Hayden, while chosen subject to completely overcoming his ongoing heel injury, is expected to play. One of the biggest question marks was over Symonds, who has averaged 77.70 in Tests in the past 12 months. He was also one of the central figures in the heated home series against India earlier this year, when he was involved in a racism row with Harbhajan Singh.
It was widely expected that Symonds would struggle to be in contention having been sent home from Darwin only a fortnight ago due to the team's frustration with his attitude. Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said Symonds was now going through a process managed by Cricket Australia to give him the chance to decide on his future.
"Cricket Australia has told us that selectors will be advised once Andrew can be considered again for selection and we hope we can look forward to that advice in due course because as we all know, a fit and fully-committed Andrew Symonds can be a world beater," Hilditch said. "In the meantime, our advice was that he was not available to be considered for selection this time."
His exclusion leaves Australia without one of their best players of spin and a part-time bowler on a trip where Harbhajan and Anil Kumble could be a handful. Of equal concern to Australia is that their own slow-bowling stocks are thin, with two untested players the preferred options. Casson, McGain and Krejza were expecting a bowl-off of sorts on their Australia A trip to India this month but rain and injuries meant only McGain had a decent opportunity.
Casson, who made his Test debut in Barbados in June and is the only frontline spinner with a Cricket Australia contract, sent down just one over against India A in Bangalore before hurting his hamstring. Krejza had no chance to bowl when the second match in Hyderabad was washed out. McGain picked up three wickets in the opening game but missed out on a second-innings spell due to a minor strain to his right shoulder and has been selected subject to fitness.
McGain's relative success and strong Pura Cup season for Victoria makes him the likely first-choice spinner just a year after he was working full-time in the IT section of a bank. Having been kept out of state cricket for most of his career by a succession of Victoria slow men including Shane Warne, Colin Miller and Cameron White, McGain now has a good chance of becoming Australia's oldest Test debutant since the 38-year-old Bob Holland in 1984.
He will be competing with Krejza, 25, an aggressive offspinner who likes to flight the ball but does not have an especially strong first-class record with 43 wickets at 45.46. He has not managed a five-wicket haul at state level and collected 18 first-class victims at 47.11 in 2007-08, which was his second season with Tasmania having switched from New South Wales.
"Bryce McGain was the standout leg-spinner at interstate level last year and we think he is really well suited to the Indian conditions and bowling plans," Hilditch said. "His story is a great example of how those who perform at interstate level will be rewarded. Jason Krejza had a good season for Tasmania last year but is a selection very much for Indian conditions. The selectors felt right-arm finger spinners would perform well in India and Jason now has a chance to prove himself at the international level."
Siddle, 23, also comes into the squad fresh from the Australia A trip. A right-arm fast bowler with genuine speed and the ability to swing the ball, Siddle has had three stints at the Academy while establishing himself with Victoria. He has had ongoing shoulder problems and missed more than half the Pura Cup season due to injury in 2007-08, but his 33 wickets at 15.75 from five games highlighted his value as a strike weapon.
Siddle is likely to be second in line outside the starting pace attack with Doug Bollinger set for a long-awaited Test debut should the opportunity arise. Ashley Noffke was not included in the squad despite being part of the group that visited the West Indies.
Australia must also weigh up how to use Watson, who has replaced Symonds as the seventh batsman. Simon Katich's two Test centuries in the Caribbean make him the likely candidate to fill Symonds' position in the starting 11, although Watson's all-round skills and new-found fitness make him a tempting prospect.
Despite being on the international scene for six years Watson has played only three Tests, all of which came in 2005. A terrible run with injuries, particularly hamstring problems, has limited him to on-and-off ODI appearances, although he has now established himself as a quality one-day opener and is hoping to transfer the success to the Test arena.
The changing nature of Australia's line-up has left the squad with only four men - Ponting, Hayden, Katich and Michael Clarke - who have played a Test in India. The players depart on September 21 and they will have two warm-up games and nearly a fortnight in India before the first Test in Bangalore, which starts on October 9.
Squad: Matthew Hayden, Phil Jaques, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin (wk), Brett Lee, Jason Krejza, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Bryce McGain, Stuart Clark, Doug Bollinger