Though inexperienced in Indian conditions, both are proven performers
Australia will lean heavily on its new-ball operators, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, in the forthcoming four-Test series in India.
Left-arm pacer Starc was part of the Australian touring squad the last time the side visited, and featured in two Test matches — at Chennai and Mohali — but without much success with the ball, picking up a mere two wickets. Hazlewood has not been seen in action in India in any format of the game. He was bought at $100,000 by Mumbai Indians for the 2015 IPL, but Cricket Australia did not release him to save him for the rigours of Test cricket.
Both are proven performers, though, with Starc tallying 143 wickets from his 34 Tests, and Hazlewood 109 from 26. While Starc has figured in 16 Australian wins and Hazlewood in 14, not a single one of those victories have come in South Asia.
At their first press conference of this tour on Tuesday, Australia captain Steve Smith and coach Darren Lehmann had some significant points to make about the team’s strike-bowlers. Smith spoke about how both Starc and Hazlewood are excellent practitioners of reverse swing, while Lehmann said he looks forward to seeing how the two perform after training in Dubai with SG balls ahead of the series here.
With the selectors opting to not rush fast bowler Pat Cummins back into action, Australia’s choice for third seamer will be Jackson Bird (34 wickets from eight matches).
Cummins had impressed with a second-innings six for 79 in his only Test at the Wanderers five years ago. But he been injury-prone since. Clearly the Australian selectors may want him fit for the Ashes series later this year.
Interestingly, former Australian quick Brett Lee has said that Australia was risking over-protecting Cummins, pointing out that that the young fast-bowler would “fail to learn vital lessons about what his body is capable of” if he were to miss out on a tour of India.
Smith will expect off-spinner Nathan Lyon, on his second tour of India, to exploit the pitch conditions. Lyon, who has 228 wickets from 63 matches, had 15 scalps on the 2012-13 tour of India, including a seven for 94 in the first innings at the Kotla.
Ashton Agar, Stephen O’Keefe (both left-arm spinners), Mitchell Swepson (leg-spinner) and Glenn Maxwell (off-spinner) are the other slow-bowling options.
The full team arrived at the Brabourne Stadium at about 1 p.m. and practised for three hours on a mild Wednesday, and the attention was riveted on Starc and Hazlewood.
Australia’s best performance in India, a 3-1 series win, came under the captaincy of Bill Lawry who had deployed seamers Graham McKenzie (21 wickets) and Allan Connolly (17), and off-spinner Ashley Mallett (28) and leg-spinner Johnie Gleeson (10).
In the 2004 series victory, it was Jason Gillespie (20), Glenn McGrath (14), Michael Kasprowicz (9) and Shane Warne (14) who delivered the wickets.
This time, it will be upon Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon to help outwit the Indians who have been in top form at home this season, staying undefeated against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh.
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