Top order runs have been high among Australia’s issues in India but “bridging the gap” to India’s stellar lower order could be key to a turnaround in fortunes, and Mitchell Starc’s imminent inclusion could help.
Unused and unwanted spinner Ashton Agar will join the exodus of players heading home joining injured batter David Warner and bowler Josh Hazlewood having been overlooked for the first two Tests.
He is expected to return for the ODI series and is not injured, instead set to feature for Western Australia at domestic level.
Agar, who has a Test high score of 99, was left on the bench while another left-arm spinner, Matt Kuhnemann, was flown to India and made his debut in the second Test in Delhi.
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That was the second of a second consecutive second innings collapse which have been the main contributors to two ugly losses in the opening two Tests but on both occasions India’s tail has more than wagged to rescue their own team.
In the second Test in Delhi, Australia had India on the ropes at 7-139, with a lead of 124, before Axar Patel and R Ashwin added 114 for the eighth wicket to bring their team to level-pegging with the tourists.
The Australians could have had an even bigger lead but went from 6-227 to all out for 263.
At Nagpur in the first Test, Australia lost their final four wickets for 17 runs, while Ravindra Jadeja, Axar and Mohammed Shami added 160 for the last three wickets to give India a massive lead of 223.
A tail which included captain Pat Cummins and veteran spinner Nathan Lyon, as well as rookie spinners Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann has contributed little and it’s an issue the Australians need to address in the third Test in Indore.
That could be where Starc’s inclusion makes a difference.
“That’s a hard one especially when two guys are brand new to Test cricket and coming in there,” batting coach Michael Di Venuto said.
“Nathan (Lyon) has shown some good resolve. It’s encouraging; (there will) potentially (be) changes. Potentially Starcy comes in, who’s done well with the bat here in the past. That adds a little bit more depth to the batting.
“Patty (Cummins) showed in the first innings a good method of defence and attack, so it is there. The younger ones, that’s a work in progress. That’s a big learning curve for them with the bat and the ball.”
The lack of an all-rounder in the Australian team has added a hurdle selectors have failed to overcome, unable to match the likes of Patel, who averages nearly 32 in Test cricket, while Ashwin has five Test centuries and bats at number nine.
Two of Starc’s 10 Test half-centuries have come in India, including his highest score of 99 made in Mohali in 2013, raising hope his injection could help the Australians with the bat as well as the ball.
“They bat right through to nine, and that’s the reality,” Australian coach Andrew McDonald said after the loss in Delhi.
“On the flip side to that, we’ve got to make sure we bridge that difference with our lower order as well. That’s been a distinct difference in the two Test matches so far, where you get a team five down and suddenly they creep out. They got 400 in that first game in Nagpur; it wasn’t a 400 wicket.
“We need to find runs. We knew that before we came away, that runs is always the biggest challenge in India. We felt like we’d be able to take 20 wickets, but how we find runs is really important.
“Mitchell Starc coming in, he’s had some good success with the bat, albeit he’s a lower-order player. He got 99 in Mohali (in 2013) and 62 in Pune (in 2017) on a spinning wicket as well. Do we play two quicks? All those conversations are happening but the bottom line is we do need to find runs, and that’s our big question.”
Cameron Green is likely to return with Starc for the third Test, adding batting and bowling strength which could see Australia go with just two specialist spinners, and Travis Head as support.
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