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Feature

Will Todd Murphy get a chance to shine in India?

The big question is whether Australia will want to pick a second specialist offpinner against India's right-hand heavy batting order

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
05-Feb-2023
Todd Murphy celebrates after getting the wicket of Kyle Mayers, Prime Minister's XI vs West Indies, Tour match, 2nd day, Canberra, November 24, 2022

Todd Murphy rise has been similar to that of Nathan Lyon's  •  Getty Images

Todd Murphy has only been bowling offspin for six years. Eleven months ago, he had played just one first-class game. Since then, he has only added six more.
Yet there is a chance, come Thursday, that the 22-year-old could be making his Test debut for Australia against India in Nagpur alongside his mentor Nathan Lyon.
It would be a similar rise from obscurity to that of Lyon's in 2011. But Murphy's rise, albeit just as rapid, has come along a more traditional pathway. He has been in the Victoria age-group programmes, thanks to the talent-spotting of his long-time coach, former Victoria legspinner and current Victoria and New Zealand women's spin coach Craig Howard.
Murphy played in the 2020 Under-19 World Cup for Australia, toured with Australia A to Sri Lanka last year and went to Chennai to train at the MRF academy with a select group of handpicked young Australian players. Two of his seven first-class matches have been for Australia A, if you include his excellent performance for Prime Minister's XI against West Indies in November, which was for all intents and purposes an Australia A team.
Howard believes Murphy has all the tools to succeed if called upon in Nagpur.
"He's got very good at being able to adapt on the fly for what the conditions suit," Howard told ESPNcricinfo. "Right from the start we've made sure that he is quite flexible with his seam position. And we're often talking about which conditions require high overspin and which ones require high sidespin and somewhere in between as well.
"If they do produce absolute raggers then he'll know what to do. He'll need to bowl with high sidespin and a little bit of undercut and a fraction of overspin, and sort of work that axis with the occasional high overspun ball and a bit of cross-seam stuff too, where you get natural variation off the shiny side, where it skids and it sometimes hits the seam and holds.
"There's a lot more subtle variations over there, whereas a lot of those subtle variations in Australia just don't work."
There has been talk swirling around Australian cricket for the last six months that Murphy has fast become the country's second-best red-ball spinner. But the selectors balked at the idea of picking him for the recent Sydney Test against South Africa when they did select two spinners. Coach Andrew McDonald cited the need for picking not necessarily the next-best spinner but the best one to complement Lyon, which meant the left-arm orthodox bowler Ashton Agar got the nod.
The emergence of Travis Head as a part-time offspinner has only added to the conundrum. Can Australia pick two specialist offspinners in India with part-time support from a third offspinner, and only have part-time legspin options to spin it the other way in Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith? It is something captain Pat Cummins is considering.
"It's a chance. That's something we'll have to balance up if we want to go with two spinners," Cummins said on Saturday. "Do we want variation or just two offspinners? So there's no reason why we can't go that way. Travis Head is in the side as well and bowls really good offspin. We've got plenty of variety to choose from."
"Absolutely there's no reason why [they can't play together]. If your two best spinners are standouts and they both spin it the same way this certainly shouldn't be a problem, and because they are a little bit different in what they do there should be no reason why they can't play together."
Craig Howard
The worry is that two offspinners won't match up well to India's top order with the top four likely to be exclusively right-handers while it's possible there could be only one left-hander in the top six.
Left-arm quick Mitchell Starc won't play the first Test either, meaning there won't be a lot of rough created outside the off-stump of the right-handers.
But Howard believes Murphy and Lyon can play together in the same side given they are slightly different offspinners. Murphy also has a good record against right-handers in his short first-class career, averaging 26.7 and striking at 62.2, which is streets ahead of Agar and even legspinner Mitchell Swepson in recent years.