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Analysis

Should Australia risk Cameron Green in the XI? Is there room for a third spinner?

The visitors have some key selection questions to answer ahead of the Delhi Test

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
15-Feb-2023
Cameron Green at a training session ahead of the second Test against India, Delhi, February 15, 2023

Cameron Green is not 100% fit but could get picked in Delhi  •  Getty Images

Australia's selectors made two bold calls in Nagpur and only one of them paid dividends as they were hammered by an innings and 132 runs. The selection of Todd Murphy was a masterstroke but the shock omission of Travis Head in favour of Matt Renshaw did not work out as hoped. They now face further decisions ahead of the second Test in Delhi as they try and find a combination that will get Australia back into the series. Here are some of the questions they need to answer ahead of Friday.

Do they risk Cameron Green?

Australia's allrounder is not 100% fit. He is only at the six-week mark of his recovery having badly broken his right index finger following a blow from South Africa's Anrich Nortje while batting. He is yet to face fast bowling, although he faced fast bowling throwdowns for the first time on Wednesday and got through it relatively well. He won't be able to field in the gully and will be limited as to where he can field to protect his finger. He is fit to bowl. Does Cameron Green at well less than 100% provide more value than either Renshaw or Peter Handscomb? From a batting perspective, if Green plays instead of Renshaw Australia will have four consecutive right-handers in their middle order, which goes against the right-left balance they wanted in Nagpur. If he takes Handscomb's place they lose their first-choice short leg, although he was not able to have an impact in the field in Nagpur. But his presence with the ball gives Australia's selectors and skipper Pat Cummins so much more flexibility.

Is there room for Travis Head?

If Green doesn't play, Head's chances of a recall will increase. Right now, Australia appear unlikely to backflip on their decision in Nagpur to leave out Head because of his struggles against spin and pick Renshaw because of his perceived superior spin prowess. It would be harsh on Renshaw not to get a second crack at it having put faith in him in the first place. But Head's bowling was missed in Nagpur. Because Australia picked the two offspinners in Todd Murphy and Nathan Lyon, Head's better-than-part-time offspin was seen as surplus to requirements in the attack except Australia found that their fifth bowling option in Marnus Labuschagne could not offer what they thought he might in terms of creating the odd half chance without releasing pressure. Head could have offered some respite to the four-man attack in Nagpur and potentially mitigated some of the fatigue both Lyon and Murphy suffered when Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel and Mohammed Shami added 140 for the 8th and 9th wickets combined. If the selectors thought that Head would offer a similar batting output to Renshaw then he would come back into consideration, but that would be an admission of error in Nagpur.
Do they gamble on Mitchell Starc?
Mitchell Starc was an automatic choice in the sub-continent last year, and it was thought he would be fit and raring to go for Delhi. But he admitted on Wednesday he is not quite where he needs to be with his middle finger tendon injury. He provides enormous value in terms of extra pace, reverse swing threat, a different angle, and the ability to create more rough for Australia's offspinners outside the right-hander's off stump. He also lengthens the batting lineup at No.8. He averages 32.87 with the bat in eight Test innings in India including 99 in Mohali in 2013 and 61 in Pune in 2017. Scott Boland did nothing wrong in Nagpur having come in for Josh Hazlewood who is still unavailable. Boland played a vital role in controlling the run rate and helped Murphy pick up two wickets in one of Australia's best bowling periods in the Test match. If Green is fit, it is easier to risk Starc. If Green is unavailable then Boland becomes a safer bet, although Starc could still play if Australia were confident his finger could withstand the workload in a four-man attack.

Could they play a third spinner and if so, which one?

Again, it all hinges on Green. If he is unavailable, then a third spinner is not an option. But if Green is fit enough to play then a third spinner becomes an option instead of the second specialist paceman. It would mean neither Starc nor Boland would play. Cummins would be the lone specialist quick and Green would share the fast bowling duties with him. Lyon and Murphy are locked in no matter what. If they went with a third spinner they would need to choose between Ashton Agar and Matthew Kuhnemann. Mitchell Swepson is unavailable having flown home for the birth of his first child. Coach Andrew McDonald described Kuhnemann as a "live chance" last Sunday. Agar had an excellent bowling session at the centre-wicket practice in Nagpur on Monday but he is still battling for confidence. There would be less pressure on him as the third spinner and the fifth bowler. He would also strengthen the lower-order batting as Australia had a long tail in Nagpur with Cummins at No.8. But Kuhnemann offers more control and a better red-ball record than Agar despite having played just one first-class match since October 2022.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo