Australia are leaning towards fielding a specialist wrist-spinner in a Test for the first time in 13 years, with Mitchell Swepson’s looming debut in Pakistan shaping as a timely tribute to Shane Warne’s legacy.
Swepson’s patience and domestic dominance looks set to be rewarded this week should, as expected, a spin-friendly pitch greet them in Karachi for Saturday’s second Test of the Benaud-Qadir series.
Captain Pat Cummins insisted a second spinner alongside Nathan Lyon would likely have made little difference in their drawn first Test in Rawalpindi, where their attack managed only four wickets in 239 overs on a placid pitch expected to come under the ICC’s microscope.
Ashton Agar is the Aussies ‘other spin option and has the advantage of four Tests’ experience, but the uncapped Swepson has established himself as the country’s leading red-ball spinner at domestic level.
The 28-year-old bowled Queensland to the Sheffield Shield title last year with 32 wickets in just five games and has been a constant presence in Test squads over the past two years.
“We’ll have a look at the wicket first,” Cummins said when asked whether his side could field dual spinners. “It may have been helpful here, but I don’t think it would have made too much of a difference.
“Here, you’re probably expecting 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 (where the third Test will be played) is that a second spinner is probably the way to go, but we’ll have a look.”
Either Josh Hazlewood or Mitchell Starc would likely drop out for a second spinner, while allrounder Cameron Green would ensure Cummins still has three seam-bowling options at his disposal.
Arguably the greatest champion of leg-spin bowling in cricket history, Warne had a major influence on Swepson’s career.
The spin legend mentored Swepson at various points through his career, passing on tactical and technical tips, perhaps most notably during the 2017-18 summer when Warne advised him to slow his approach to the crease down.
“Never got to properly thank this man for his influence on my cricket career,” Swepson posted in a social media tribute following Warne’s death on Friday. “He has made me push myself day in and day out without ever knowing it. Truly the greatest cricketer I’ve ever seen play the game.”
Australia trialled a handful of wrist-spinners in the aftermath of Warne’s Test retirement in 2007 but, until Lyon’s emergence, struggled to come to terms with the gaping hole left by cricket’s greatest ever bowler.
Stuart MacGill (who played four of his 44 Tests after Warne hung up the boots before injuries curtailed his career), Brad Hogg (three post-Warne Tests) Beau Casson (one Test in 2008 against West Indies) and Bryce McGain (one in 2009 ) were all tried and discarded.
Cameron White (four Tests on Australia’s 2008 tour of India) and Steve Smith (who batted at eight and nine when he played his first two Tests in 2010) were even trialed as nominal ‘bowling allrounders’.
But Australia have not fielded a specialist wrist-spinner in a Test since McGain’s debut against South Africa 13 years ago that saw him taken apart for 0-149 in 18 overs.
“It is an asset to have a wrist spinner, it is something a bit different and Sweppo has been bowling beautifully,” said Cummins.
“So we’ll get to Karachi and have a look but absolutely, Sweppo as a wrist spinner is a huge chance if we play two (spinners).”
More than half the wickets in last year’s Karachi Test between Pakistan and South Africa were taken by spin with another Warne-favorite, leggie Yasir Shah, claiming seven victims for the match.
Cummins admitted his side has been affected by the deaths of Warne and fellow cricket great Rod Marsh, who passed away on the same day last Friday, in different ways.
“It’s been a really tough week,” he said. “A few members were closer to Rod or Shane than others, and everyone deals with it slightly differently.
“But (we have) just been really open, trying to share stories and talk about it. I think like the rest of the world, everyone’s probably in a bit of disbelief, especially at the passing of Shane that happened so suddenly.
“So just getting around each other, looking after each other and it’s been a big point of conversation.”
Qantas Tour of Pakistan 2022
Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (c), Mohammad Rizwan (vc), Abdullah Shafique, Azhar Ali, Fawad Alam, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Wasim, Naseem Shah, Nauman Ali, Sajid Khan, Saud Shakeel, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Zahid Mahmood.
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc , Mark Steketee, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner. On standby: Sean Abbott, Brendan Doggett, Nic Maddinson, Matthew Renshaw
March 4-8: Match drawn
March 12-16: Second Test, Karachi
March 21-25: Third Test, Lahore
Australia ODI and T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Ben McDermott, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Marcus Stoinis, Adam Zampa
March 29: First ODI, Rawalpindi
March 31: Second ODI, Rawalpindi
April 2: Third ODI, Rawalpindi
April 5: Only T20I, Rawalpindi
All matches to be broadcast in Australia on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports