Smith key as Australia joins team for third test in India | Sports Australia

When Australia traveled to India this year to compete in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, they relied on experience alone. David Warner and Steve Smith led the batting on their third national test tour after 22 IPL seasons between them. Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc could not boast of such IPL records, but they also made a third test trip. Patrick Cummins led the team on his return to Test cricket in 2017, waking up the Indian goalkeeping batsmen at Ranchi, who had fallen into a deep sleep.

The best laid plans of mice and men. Starc started the tour injured, denying Australia the benefits of his reverse swing and downstream runs. Warner started poorly before Mohammed Siraj broke his arm and was sent home. Cummins, meanwhile, began the tour knowing his mother was ill, not knowing he would have to leave after his second test when she was placed in palliative care.

The gravity of the situation exposed the absurdity of some of the laments over the team’s performance on the pitch. At the same time, the tour continues and tourists must find their way back as the third test begins in Indore on Wednesday. Starc is finally ready to play, though he still has some limitations in his injured bowling finger.

So is the wonderful all-rounder Cameron Green, who with number six joins a battalion full of Indian rookies: Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Alex Carey. Even Usman Khawaja, with extensive experience in other countries, was battling for the first time in India. Peter Handscomb is, in fact, the opposite of Khawaja, having to his name the best performances on two tours in India, while playing only a dozen times elsewhere.

These are the players tasked with changing the dreaded batting route. Australian teams have lost in India 76 times. 91 all-out at Nagpur to start this series is the lowest score of all. 113 Delhi, which squandered a winning position, is sixth on this list. Only twice in Test history have Australia conceded nine goals less than on that day in the Indian capital, the infamous Cape Town in 2011.

What Australia really needs is Smith’s return to running in the first place. Perhaps his temporary return to the role of captain will help him click. His 2017 tour was one of the biggest: Alastair Cook is the only visiting captain to match Smith for three centuries in a series in India. Reclaiming that peak is unrealistic, but something half as good might do the trick.

“He usually brings out the best in me, I’m excited to lead this week,” he said before the game. “I know these conditions well. It’s kind of like my second home playing here. Having played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what goals can do. Can’t wait.”

The changes to the batting order seem obvious: come in to replace Warner and join Khawaja at the top of the table, Labuschagne and Smith make their block in the middle, Handscomb to five to replace the underperforming Matthew Renshaw, and Green with Carey to round things up .

Bowling is more difficult. Smith mentioned that Green’s inclusion opened up opportunities for an extra hitter, keeping three spinners, or gaining extra “speed in the air”. None of them seem likely. A green as the fourth bowler would leave the attack light. Lyon worked well with spin juniors Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann in Delhi, but Murphy did not play in practice the day before the test, suggesting his sideload remains an issue. Airspeed would suggest Lance Morris’ fast man unlocked pepper India, but Morris spent the same training session as a net bowler sending an off-spin.

All of which means the likely setup will be Scott Boland who was good at Nagpur to join Starc, Green, Lyon and Kuhnemann, unless a late decision was made to add Mitchell Swepson’s leg spin to Lyon’s off-breaks and Kuhnemann’s left- orthodox arm. Indore’s pitch is empty on both sides, but the likelihood of a slow turn makes this move unlikely. As with this tour, injury and absence meant that most decisions about choosing Australia were made for them.

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