Paceman Pat Cummins could be about to make his long-awaited return to Test cricket as Australian selectors take desperate measures to fill the void left by Mitchell Starc in India.
Starc and luckless allrounder Mitchell Marsh flew home last week with injuries ahead of the third Test starting in Ranchi on Thursday, opening the door for their replacements Cummins and Marcus Stoinis.
Cummins, 23, is tipped to be handed the reins of Australia’s bowling attack, despite playing just one first-class match since his Test debut in the 2015 Ashes series.
“He’s such an exciting prospect that the selectors just want to run with him [despite the risk],” former Australian cricketer Bryce McGain told The New Daily.
“Australia has always picked some form of serious firepower and I really think that Cummins will come straight into the line-up.”
McGain said picking an underdone Cummins was not without its risks, with the consensus being he needed to play Sheffield Shield cricket to build his confidence before an international return.
However, Cummins’ express pace has Australian selectors champing at the bit to name him the No.1 fast bowler, instead of a reliable, yet slower, Jackson Bird.
“Bird gets overlooked because they want a bowler who’s going to get over 145-150 kilometres per hour, particularly because Starc did that and really blew away their middle and lower order in the last Test,” McGain said.
“Hopefully now he understands his body and everything’s much stronger than it was when he was a younger man when he broke into the Test team six years ago.
“He’s not a little boy anymore.”
As for Marsh’s replacement, Victorian Glenn Maxwell is the frontrunner to claim a Test spot ahead of a like-for-like swap in Stoinis, with a third spin option and batting allrounder at No.6 the likely route.
“I think they’ll go with Glenn Maxwell, Marsh didn’t really provide much of a bowling alternative for us, he bowled a couple overs, I just don’t think Steve Smith had the trust in him, but I’m sure the spin bowlers will want a little bit of a change-up, bit of a break and get Glenn Maxwell into the game,” McGain said.
“Glenn Maxwell is well experienced in playing in India, in terms of batting in the IPL, I think that holds him in good stead but he’s also super dynamic in the field so he can save some runs and will be incredibly valuable in that respect.”
Usman Khawaja is also a possible replacement and is the best pure batsman option with a Test average of 47.94.
However, his lack of fielding prowess compared to Maxwell and his poor form in the subcontinent could be his downfall. From seven trips to the crease in Asia, Khawaja averages a lowly 19.
Starc was ruled out of the final two Tests with a stress fracture in his foot after India tied the series 1-1 in Bangalore.
It’s understood he should recover in time for the one-day international Champions Trophy in June.
Meanwhile, Marsh is facing a nine-month stint on the sidelines with a shoulder reconstruction that would keep him out for the remainder of 2017.
Marsh scored 48 runs in two Tests in India, bringing the No.6’s batting average down to 21.74 from 21 Tests.
Teams will be announced at the toss of the third Test on Thursday morning.