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Pat Cummins expects 'traditional' SCG pitch to be similar to Indian conditions

Australia's captain says "2023 is going to be a big year," with a Test tour of India following the final match against South Africa

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
03-Jan-2023
Pat Cummins expects spin and reverse swing to come into play at the SCG  •  Getty Images

Pat Cummins expects spin and reverse swing to come into play at the SCG  •  Getty Images

Pat Cummins expects there to be a "huge connection" between the conditions for the Sydney Test against South Africa and what Australia will face on the upcoming tour of India, with their focus on the present but also the challenges ahead.
Through a combination of factors, Australia have some tricky decisions to make over the balance of their side for the SCG. Allrounder Cameron Green, who provides a natural balance, is injured for a match which is pushing selectors hard to include Ashton Agar as a second spinner, but reverse swing is also likely to be a factor.
They are similar conversations that will need to be had during the four-Test tour of India which begins in early February and where Australia are aiming to win for the first time since 2004.
"It's a huge connection to India," Cummins said, while not revealing the final XI for the SCG Test. "Fast bowling and reverse swing is going to come into it, which we can expect in India. Probably get more spin overs here, our batters are probably going to face more spin here as well. So it's a really good connection.
"Even personally captaining here might be a little different to the last few Test matches. So it's a really good prep. Whatever you do there's going to be strong connection to India, which is nice. It's not by purpose, it's just worked out that way."
If Agar does play, having last appeared in the format in 2017, it will be the first time since 2016-17 that Australia have included two frontline spinners for a home Test. He can expect to be part of the squad for the India tour alongside Nathan Lyon which will also include more spinners, potentially Mitchell Swepson and the uncapped Todd Murphy.
There has been an effort to return SCG pitches to something more akin to what they were traditionally known for, where spin would play a major part, although this year the nature of the surface - which was last used for Shane Warne's final Test in 2006-07 - has also been determined by the weather and volume of cricket played. In the one Sheffield Shield match played on the ground this season, 23 of the 40 wickets fell to spin.
"I think even in these three weeks it might be a good time to pause and think about what a great 12 months it's been for this team. Pakistan and Sri Lanka were two really good subcontinent tours with a third one in India to come. 2023 is going to be a big year."
Pat Cummins
"We're hoping for a traditional SCG pitch," curator Adam Lewis said. "It's not quite what we've seen in the past few years. A few of the players have told me it looks like a wicket from about 10 years ago, which gave me a bit of confidence. It's thin on grass, a bit patchy and probably not the best-looking pitch that we've seen, but we're looking forward to it and we've done the best we can."
The combination of conditions and injuries has provided Australia with a chance to explore various options within their squad at the beginning of a year that includes 11 Tests - if they make the Test Championship final - between now and the conclusion of the Ashes in late July.
"In T20s and one-dayers think [opportunities] happen organically, Test cricket it's a bit harder," Cummins said. "Don't wish [injuries] upon anyone but…we speak a lot about having a squad of 15 plus players to get through a really busy 12-month schedule. It's not going to take 11, it will take 15 or 16 and if that means one or two guys get their opportunity they may not have got before heading over to a place like India in that hot furnace it's only a good thing."
However, having narrowly missed out on the first Test Championship final because of docked points for over-rate - and also slipping up at crucial moments in the previous cycle - there has been a laser focus to ensure there is no repeat.
"That was always going to be a big goal," Cummins said. "I think we've been playing fantastically, we've put ourselves in that position to earn that spot early which is a huge driver for us."
On the verge of a summer clean sweep against what has been largely underwhelming opponents in West Indies and South Africa, the next seven months will likely define how this Australian Test team is remembered. If they complete a hat-trick of winning in India (which will be a monumental task) taking the Test Championship title, and securing an Ashes in England, Cummins' side will need to be ranked very highly.
"We've got a huge year ahead," he said. "I think even in these three weeks it might be a good time to pause and think about what a great 12 months it's been for this team. Pakistan and Sri Lanka were two really good subcontinent tours with a third one in India to come. 2023 is going to be a big year."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo