Pak vs Aus 2022 2nd Test

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Queenslander could become first specialist Australia legspinner to play Test cricket since Bryce McGain in 2009

Even if Australia had Shane Warne in his prime in Rawalpindi, they might not have gone close to taking 20 wickets on a surface that yielded just 14 in five days.
But Australia are considering picking a specialist legspinner for the first time since 2009, with Mitchell Swepson looking increasingly likely to make his long-awaited Test debut in the second Test in Karachi.
“Potentially,” captain Pat Cummins said after the final day of the Rawalpindi Test. “I think we’ll have a look before making up our mind. I think it is an asset for sure having a wristspinner. It’s something a bit different, and Sweppo has been bowling beautifully. We’ll get to Karachi and have a look. But absolutely, Sweppo as a wristspinner is a huge chance if we play two. “
Australia’s last Test victory in Pakistan in 1998 had come in Rawalpindi, with an offspinner and a legspinner in their attack. Legspinner Stuart MacGill claimed nine wickets for the match and Colin Miller took three, although Miller, who was on debut, bowled both seam up and offspin.
Australia were lured into playing three quicks in Rawalpindi by more recent evidence that pace bowlers would be more effective, and Cummins felt that this specific Test-match strip was designed to nullify pace bowling and led to a non-contest between bat and ball.

But their opponents picked two specialist spinners and a spin-bowling allrounder, who took seven wickets between them, and Pakistan did bowl Australia out – albeit in 140.1 overs. Australia’s spinners managed just two wickets, and their bowlers only three in total. The fourth wicket in three days of bowling came via a run-out.

Australia’s quicks were also arguably out-bowled by Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah, who took three wickets between them, and at times bowled without luck. Cummins, however, had no regrets about not picking the legspinner for Rawalpindi.

“I think it may have been helpful here, but I don’t think it would have made too much of a difference,” he said. “Here you probably expected more up-and-down bounce and reverse swing, which lends more support to the fast bowlers rather than spinners. Our intel from Karachi and Lahore says a second spinner is probably the way to go. But we’ll have to look. “

Warne’s death during the first Test cast a huge shadow over global cricket, but it has also served to remind Australian cricket of what a monumental hole he left when he retired from the Test team in 2007.
Despite the predictions that Warne’s genius across 16 years of international cricket would spawn a generation of Australian legspinners to follow in his footsteps, that has not been the case. If Swepson were to play in Karachi, he would be the first specialist legspinner to play Test cricket for Australia since Bryce McGain played a one-off Test in 2009.

Swepson, 28, has played 51 first-class matches and has 154 wickets at 33.45 with four five-wicket hauls. Three of those came in three consecutive Sheffield Shield innings across a 13-day stretch in October-November of 2020. But that was also the last time he played as many first-class matches in succession, bagging 23 wickets in those three games.

Since then, Swepson has played just six first-class matches in 18 months, touring endlessly with Australia’s squad as Lyon’s Test understudy and Adam Zampa’s shadow in T20Is. He also suffered a stress fracture in his neck during that period in part because of over-bowling in the nets.

“I thought Nathan Lyon bowled really well. Even today [the fifth day]he created three or four chances that didn’t go to hand “

Pat Cummins on his offspinner’s performance in the Rawalpindi Test

Swepson has played just three first-class matches this summer. In his penultimate Shield game prior to touring Pakistan, he bowled just two overs in a match at the Gabba where 38 wickets fell in three days – 35 of them to seamers – as only two batters reached 50. In his last match at the Junction Oval in Melbourne, a notoriously placid batting-friendly surface, Swepson bowled 52 overs in the match and took 1 for 145.

It will be a big ask for him to step straight into Test-match cricket, but Australia might need Swepson to have an impact immediately if they are to make inroads into Pakistan’s batting – particularly given Lyon’s returns. Australia’s No. 1 spinner bowled better than his Rawalpindi figures of 1 for 236 from 78 overs suggested, something that his captain noted.

“I thought Nathan Lyon bowled really well this Test match,” Cummins said. “Even today he probably created three or four chances that he just didn’t go to hand. So yeah, it’s one of those things you don’t look too closely at.”

Lyon did have two difficult catches dropped by Alex Carey in the first innings, while Australia opted not to review two chances off Imam-ul-Haq, both of which would have been overturned in Lyon’s favor. But even discounting the Rawalpindi match, in nine Tests from February 2020 onward, Lyon’s strike rate is 84 compared to his career rate of 65.2, and he hasn’t taken a five-wicket haul in 14 innings.

If Australia are to win in Pakistan, they will need their spinners to strike.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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