Ten months ago, Todd Murphy was a fringe state cricketer with one first-class match to his name, struggling to break into Victoria’s starting XI – but after a breakthrough summer in the Sheffield Shield, the spectacled 22-year-old is on the verge of becoming Australia‘s 465th men’s Test cricketer.
On Wednesday morning, Murphy was one of four strike spinners named in Australia‘s 18-player Test squad for next month’s highly-anticipated tour of India, joining veteran tweaker Nathan Lyon, Queensland leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson and white-ball stalwart Ashton Agar.
“The more spinners, the better, but I‘m not sure they can fit four of us in,” Murphy told reporters on Wednesday.
“I am under no illusions of how difficult it might be at times with how well (India) play spin bowling.
“To play against guys who have grown up playing spin their whole life … it‘s something I’m going to have to be patient with and try and learn along the way and figure out ways to outlast them.”
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A young cricketer‘s maiden Test call-up is always accompanied by excitement and speculation, particularly ahead of a series with such significance as the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but Murphy’s inclusion felt like an inevitability.
Those close to the Victorian off-spinner have unanimously dubbed him Nathan Lyon‘s heir apparent, adamantly claiming he boasts all attributes needed to flourish in the Test arena.
“He‘s as good an off-spinner as I’ve seen since Nathan Lyon,” Sydney Sixers teammate Steve O’Keefe told foxsports.com.au.
“The ball comes out of his hand beautifully, he‘s been working on his variations. He’s going to be a star for the Sixers going forward, and also for the Australian cricket team when the time comes.
“Every year, he just seems to get a little bit better and add to that pile of new skills.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, national selector George Bailey was quick to emphasise the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was not a development tour for Murphy; he had earned his spot in the squad through consistent performances at grade, state and Australia A level.
“We don‘t pick someone unless we think they’re ready,” Bailey said.
“He‘s a very humble, hard-working kid. You forget that he’s only 22 years old.
“He‘s a fierce competitor … he wants to have the ball in his hand and wants to impact the result.”
Murphy, born in Echuca but raised in the New South Wales border town of Moama, was a top-order batter who bowled part-time seamers until the age of 16, when he was encouraged to pursue off-spin.
Former Victorian leg-spinner Craig Howard is credited for unlocking Murphy‘s potential as a spin bowler after spotting the teenager “stuffing around” in the nets during an under-16s pathways training session in the Victorian country town of Rochester.
Murphy made his first-grade debut for St Kilda Cricket Club during the 2018/19 summer, taking 61 wickets across two seasons before earning a rookie contract with Victoria in June 2020.
“His consistency is outstanding, he knows what he wants to do, and he can execute it,” St Kilda captain and former South Australian wicketkeeper Adam Crosthwaite told The Inner Sanctum.
“He thinks he‘s the one that can change the game, and he usually is.
“He‘s definitely got the attitude and the make-up to be a successful spinner at Test level.”
Murphy represented Australia at the 2020 Under-19 Cricket World Cup in South Africa before making his Marsh Cup debut in March 2021, with former Test captain Tim Paine becoming his first victim at state level.
A first-class debut followed soon after, selected for Victoria‘s Sheffield Shield clash against South Australia in April 2021, but Murphy would have to wait another 346 days for his next first-class appearance.
Former Test tweaker Jon Holland kept Murphy on the sidelines for most of the 2021/22 season, with Australia‘s pace-friendly wickets rarely providing an opportunity for Victoria to pick two strike spinners in the same match.
After another prolific summer in Victorian Premier Cricket, Murphy made his second Sheffield Shield appearance in March 2022, taking seven wickets against Tasmania at Junction Oval.
It was a performance that made national selectors sit up and take notice – Murphy was a surprise inclusion in the Australia A squad for last year‘s tour of Asia, taking 4-52 against Sri Lanka A in Hambantota.
To fast-track his development, Cricket Australia sent Murphy and a group of emerging spinners to Chennai‘s MRF Academy so they could refine their craft in the subcontinent’s unique conditions.
“That was an awesome opportunity, just to get over there and experience the different conditions was massive for me,” Murphy told foxsports.com.au.
“It‘s going to be more beneficial when I do get to go back there, being able to call upon the experiences I’ve had … just finding ways to get the ball doing different things over there was probably what I took out of it the most.”
Murphy has taken 14 wickets at 17.71 in three Sheffield Shield matches this summer, claiming 3-27 against the West Indies during November’s Prime Minister’s XI match in Canberra.
His reputation grew last month when he took seven wickets against New South Wales to help Victoria clinch a remarkable 69-run victory at Junction Oval. Suddenly, a national call-up beckoned.
“The main thing that‘s improved for me is my confidence,” Murphy said.
“Feeling comfortable at that next level to back myself in and just believe that the skills that I‘ve got can stand up and make an impact at any level.”
Murphy‘s stock ball is a constant threat to left-handed batters, while he keeps right-handers on their toes by varying his pace and seam position.
“That‘s something that I’m definitely working towards, trying to be able to have stock ball that I can back in any situation against any batter,” Murphy said.
“(Lyon‘s) stock ball is obviously just unbelievable. For me, I know it’s not quite as good at the moment, so I probably rely a little bit more on variation to try and set a batsman up.
“I‘d love to one day be able to say I don’t need variation because my stock ball is good enough, but I know I’m not there yet.”
Sixers assistant coach Cameron White, one of Australia’s strike spinners during the 2008 Test tour of India, believes Murphy is equipped to challenge India‘s world-class batting attack in the subcontinent.
“One of Murph‘s real strengths is his subtle variations while maintaining his accuracy,” White told foxsports.com.au.
“His ability to bowl long spells with those couple of little (variations), that will hold him in good stead … he rarely bowls a bad ball.
“Those conditions (in India) will suit him.”
It remains to be seen whether Murphy receives a baggy green in India next month, but the presence of Lyon and part-time tweaker Travis Head leaves little wriggle room for another off-spinner in the starting XI.
Agar may not necessarily be Australia‘s second-best tweaker, but his left-arm orthodox bowling action compliments Lyon’s off-spin – despite his underwhelming performance against South Africa last week, the West Australian is expected to play the first Test against India in Nagpur.
However, Bailey and the national selectors wouldn‘t hesitate unleashing Murphy against the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma next month if conditions and match-ups warranted a debut.
“I‘m always pretty interested in that whole narrative around (what is a) good and a bad time to debut someone,” Bailey said.
“I‘m sure if you asked the player, ’We’re thinking about playing you, mate, but we’re just going to hold off until we think we can find an easy game.’ I’m not sure they’d be that keen on that.
“Absolutely he‘s a chance to play. This is certainly not a development tour. He’s earned his spot.”
The first Test between India and Australia gets underway at Nagpur‘s Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday, February 6, with the first ball scheduled for 3pm AEDT.
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