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New candidates emerge as Australia search answers for who after Nathan Lyon?

Steve O'Keefe reckons they are in their "best place ever to go to India"; Todd Murphy impresses Nathan Lyon

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Offspinner Todd Murphy has caught the eye of people after impressive Shield stints  •  Getty Images

Offspinner Todd Murphy has caught the eye of people after impressive Shield stints  •  Getty Images

It's been a productive few weeks for spin in Australian first-class cricket. At Test level, Nathan Lyon's six-wicket haul in Perth helped secure the opening match against West Indies, while on the domestic front there has been a window provided into what is bubbling along just below, which is significant with Australia having a tour to India in a couple of months.
The Sheffield Shield has now entered its mid-season break with the BBL starting next week and running through to early February, so it feels like a suitable moment to reflect on where things stand. Not so long ago, there was a bit of concern in the game when the question was posed - if not Lyon, then who?
His 446 Test wickets are a critical part of Australia's bowling, and you still wouldn't want to have to replace him overnight, but over the next few years, an orderly transition could be possible - not that Lyon shows any inclination of going anywhere - and in the shorter term, there is an increasing pool of candidates to supplement him.
A look at this season's Sheffield Shield leading wicket-takers would not immediately suggest a bountiful time for spinners, with the top nine places taken by quicks. But then there are some interesting names that emerge.
The one everyone is talking about is Victoria's offspinner Todd Murphy (14 wickets at 17.71). With another three wickets against West Indies for the Prime Minister's XI to add to that and he could be vaulting towards Australia contention. Just above him is Western Australia's Corey Rocchiccioli (16 at 26.31). Benjamin Manenti (14 at 31.92) then follows along with the surprise package of Chris Green (12 at 12.83). One of the most promising legpsinner in the country, Tanveer Sangha, has not played yet this season due to a stress fracture of the back.
Steve O'Keefe, the former Australia spinner who played his last first-class season in 2019-2020, had previously voiced concerns for the next generation of spinners but is now much more confident in what is emerging.
"I think a lot's changed in 12-18 months," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Think Tanveer Sangha is going to be such a super talent for Australia in all forms. You've got Mitchell Swepson who has been a project player for a long time, then you've got Matt Kuhnemann, Ben Manenti, [Adam] Zampa's back playing, Rocchiccioli, I really like his attributes, and that's not to mention Murphy, [Ashton] Agar and [Jon] Holland.
"I think we are in our best place ever to go to India…there's actually a really strong pool of players. You've got so many choices which is so exciting to see. I think Australia's spin-bowling depth is so good, and it's nice and refreshing to say that because it hasn't been for a long time."
It has not all been a bundle of fun. In fact, Lyon's early season involved a fair amount of toil with just eight wickets in three outings for New South Wales, while Swepson has 12 in five matches for Queensland and eight of those came in one outing against NSW. Ashton Agar, who is expected to feature in the tour squad to India, claimed three wickets across two rare first-class outings for the PM's XI and Western Australia.
As ever, pitches play a key part in this. In the last couple of Shield rounds, there was a surface which spun significantly at the SCG (at last, some might say) then at Junction Oval last week, both Victoria and New South Wales felt able to play two spinners with Murphy having a big say in the last innings.
"It's no secret, I'm very impressed with Todd Murphy. I've done a little bit of work with [him]...he's definitely put his hand up"
Nathan Lyon
Overall, this is shaping as one of the better seasons for spinners in the Shield over recent years. At the break, the collective average is 35.42 with only two summers since 2005-06 having a lower return. It is a notable improvement on the 2019-2020 season when the figure blew out to 47.40, after which the Shield reverted to using the Kookaburra ball throughout, having experimented with splitting the season with the Dukes ball.
"There's a lot of guys really finding their feet and learning the craft of spin bowling at the Shield level, which is very exciting," Lyon said. "The spin stocks are going really well in Australian cricket. It's no secret, I'm very impressed with Todd Murphy. I've done a little bit of work with [him], been around the [Sydney] Sixers with him...he's definitely put his hand up.
"I first had a bowl with him about two years during Covid in the Shield bubble. He's got the skillset; it's just about him learning the craft, tactically and mentally, and really homing in on bowling an unbelievable stock ball and he's definitely got that."
None of the genuine candidates to support Lyon in India will have the chance for another red-ball bowl before the squad for that tour is selected and whoever does travel still faces a huge challenge, but from a cupboard that was looking a little bare a few years ago there is now more to feel encouraged about.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo