Uncapped Queensland leggie Mitchell Swepson is among four specialist spinners named in Australia’s 16-man Test squad to tour India next month.
Australia unveiled its squad to tour India in February and March in what looms as the biggest test of Steve Smith’s captaincy.
Swepson, 23, makes the Test squad after just 14 first-class matches, having taken 41 wickets at an average of 32.82. He is yet to take a five-wicket haul in an innings.
Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar and Steve O’Keefe are the other three specialist spinners in Australia’s ranks, while Glenn Maxwell, Shaun and Mitchell Marsh all make their returns to the Test fold.
“[Swepson] is an exciting young legspinner, gives the ball a very good rip, he’s a wicket-taking legspinner,” Australia’s interim chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns said.
“At the end of the day, you have got to take wickets to win Test matches and given the opportunity we feel that he could play a part over there.
“If he doesn’t, he’ll gain a lot from the experience.
“[Agar] is a good left-arm orthodox spinner who can be very exciting with the bat and also fields extremely well. He provides us with a great all-round package.”
Matthew Wade, fresh from a ODI century against Pakistan, has retained his wicketkeeping spot for the tour, ahead of glove rival Peter Nevill.
All-rounder Hilton Cartwright, who played in Australia’s most recent Test against Pakistan at the Gabba, is not in the squad, with Maxwell, Agar and Mitchell Marsh likely to jostle for the multi-role positions.
Former Australian captain Michael Clarke was bemused by Cartwright’s omission. “Why did the selectors pick him in the last Test if they weren’t going to take him to India,” Clarke said on Channel Nine.
Hohns said he felt the selectors had picked all-rounders capable of thriving in the sub-continental conditions.
“We know Glenn plays very well against spin and has a lot of experience playing in India,” Hohns said.
“We think his ability with the bat, coupled with his handy off-spin will complement the bowling unit if required. We consider Mitchell as a bowling all-rounder and should we decide to play a two pace and two spin bowling attack it is important to have that third seam bowling option if conditions suit.”
Maxwell said being dropped from Australia’s one-day team last September and also being initially overlooked for Victoria’s Sheffield Shield team had given him reason to take stock.
“I have had so much time to sit down and reflect,” Maxwell said. “When you get that time away, you actually think about where you want to be either the next year or the year after that.
“I suppose I was really at peace for a while there.
“Instead of putting so much pressure on myself, I tried to go out there and enjoy it a little bit more,” he said.
“You can get caught up in results a lot as a cricketer and that can drive your mood a lot of time … to reignite that love just by playing park cricket was perfect timing.
“Since then I have just tried to look at it a bit more positively, don’t try and worry about it.”
Maxwell said never gave up hope of adding to his three Test matches – the most recent of which was in Abu Dhabi in October 2014.
“I had a really good opportunity in Abu Dhabi to really nail down a spot and make that number six position my own – I probably let a good opportunity slip,” he said.
“I was hoping for a long time that it wasn’t going to be my last Test … I thought if I could play to the best of my ability, I thought I would get another opportunity.”
Shaun Marsh is one of just six specialist batsmen in the the Test squad, and his recall comes on the back of his good record on sub-continent pitches, having scored a century in Sri Lanka in 2016.
“Shaun [Marsh] is proven in sub-continent conditions and is coming off a hundred in his last Test match in Sri Lanka,” Hohns said.
“He is a very versatile batsman who can slot in at the top or the middle of the order.”
Australia last won a Test series in India in 2004, and will head to the subcontinent with the knowledge that its hosts have brushed all comers aside on home soil en route to regaining the ICC’s number-one Test ranking.
Hohns said that winning the four-Test series would not be easy.
“We have a squad here that can perform well enough in those conditions to give a good account of itself,” he said.
“We know it’s very difficult over there. No country in the last 10 years probably has performed all that well over there or succeeded.
“Somehow, some way, someone has to turn the tide. And we’re hoping that we can do that.”
The first Test of a four-Test series against India will take place in Pune on February 23.
Australia squad to tour India
Steve Smith (capt), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Jackson Bird, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve O’Keefe, Matt Renshaw, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade (wk)
India v Australia tour dates:
– First Test: February 23 in Pune
– Second Test: March 4 in Bangalore
– Third Test: March 16 in Ranchi
– Fourth Test: March 25 in Dharamshala