Australia have announced a 16-man squad, led by Ricky Ponting and packed with slow bowlers, for next month's tour of India. Shane Warne, Nathan Hauritz and Cameron White are the three specialist spinners picked, while Simon Katich and Michael Clarke, two of the batsman in the squad, can bowl some handy part-time spin - and play it pretty well too. Shane Watson has also been included. The selections represent a shift in policy from previous Australian teams to tour India, which were pace-oriented and light on spin.
Stuart MacGill, who suffered a poor run during India's tour of Australia earlier this year, has been dropped from the squad, and so has Shaun Tait. Instead, Brett Lee is back in the side, bolstering a formidable pace attack that also include Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz.
The selectors have included eight batsmen in the squad, and a notable quality of most of them is their ability against spin. Darren Lehmann had a run of good scores against Sri Lanka on turning pitches, while Katich handled the Indian spinners with comfort earlier this year. But while the batting remains largely untouched, the bowling attack has been given a new look.
Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selectors, justified loading the side with slow bowlers. "We've selected three very different types of spinners in Shane Warne, Cameron White and Nathan Hauritz," he said. "We were very keen to include two allrounders in the squad, and Cameron's ability with the bat worked strongly in his favour, and as such, [he] was the preferred second-choice legspinner ahead of Stuart MacGill."
White's unique bowling action has been compared to Anil Kumble's, and his supporters claimed that it was for precisely this reason that he should be included in the squad for India. "While not a huge turner of the ball, he generates significant bounce off the pitch and is very quick through the air, and it's a style of bowling which has proved extremely effective on Indian wickets," said Hohns. "In Nathan's case, we thought it sensible to include a finger spinner given the conditions and our history of including a finger spinner in the squad on our last two Indian tours."
And Hohns welcomed Lee back into the fold. "With Brett back in the squad our fast-bowling attack now has a little bit of everything," he said. "He gives us that raw aggression and pace to compliment the more defensive styles of Michael Kasprowicz, Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath."
The search for more flexibility led the selectors to include Watson, who has yet to make his Test debut. "Shane has proven his full fitness since coming back from injury and could be particularly valuable as a medium-pace bowling allrounder if conditions were more suited to playing just the two specialist fast bowlers," Hohns explained. "He had a terrific domestic season as a specialist batsman, but has also done a lot of work on his bowling action since recovering from injury and is an exciting allround talent."
Hohns said the selectors had tried to cover every angle for the varied challenges that an Indian tour brings up. "We've chosen one more player than usual, but we wanted to select a squad that allows us to cover every possible condition that may be presented. This is a well-rounded squad that gives us enormous flexibility and it's one that we're very pleased with and excited about.
"One of Australian cricket's greatest challenges remains winning a Test series in India and we're confident that this squad will give us every opportunity to do so."
Squad Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting (capt), Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Simon Katich, Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist (wk), Shane Watson, Cameron White, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Nathan Hauritz, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, Glenn McGrath.