Sport Cricket The selection gamble Australia must make in India

The selection gamble Australia must make in India

Pat Cummins (centre) celebrates a one-day international wicket. Photo: Getty
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Retired Australian batting great Matthew Hayden has a simple message to the country’s selectors: pick Pat Cummins or risk losing the Test series in India.

The 23-year-old Cummins has been rushed into Australia’s squad for the third Test starting on Thursday in Ranchi after left-armed spearhead Mitchell Starc was sent home with a foot injury.

Cummins, who has repeatedly broken down through injury in his stop-start career, starred in his first Sheffield Shield match in almost six years last week, taking eight wickets for New South Wales.

And it is that form – and his man-of-the-match effort in his only Test for Australia at Johannesburg in November 2011 – that has Hayden absolutely convinced Cummins should be picked.

“He [Starc] is an immense loss to Australia,” Hayden told The New Daily.

“To have the heart of the strike bowling line-up ripped out at a time when Australia needs its leading paceman on the front line … luckily for Australia, we have a back-up,” the former opener said.

“Cummins must play. His fast outswing has sure been missed since his debut in South Africa.

“He is a perfect foil for [Josh] Hazlewood and a must pick for Steve Smith.”

Hayden, renowned for his ability to perform in India’s tough conditions, acknowledged there was a chance the injury-prone Cummins could break down again – but that picking him was a risk worth taking.

And he said that while fast bowlers were often on the verge of injury, Test cricket needs them.

“Test cricket is a battle of attrition,” Hayden said.

“The survival rates for premium bowlers like Starc and before him [Jeff] Thomson, [Brett] Lee and [Shoaib] Akhtar are low.

“[Cummins and those guys] make impact, sustain injuries, fight to come back and hold until the next injury comes along.

“Without our freight train operators, the brand of Test cricket becomes bland.”

Hayden, who scored 8625 runs in 103 Test matches for Australia, said he enjoyed the competitive nature of the second Test in Bangalore.

But he said accusations that Australia cheated “muddy the agenda” and that players from both nations were on notice regarding their behaviour in Ranchi.

The Bangalore Test was played in a particularly tense atmosphere. Photo: AAP

“The [Bangalore] incidents will remind both teams that there is such a fine line between gamesmanship and erosion of our beautiful game,” he said.

“We love the drama but when we get it, no one is sure how to handle it.

“[Now] we have to move on … the foundation to our game is respect.”

Like Hayden, Matt Renshaw is a tall left-handed opener who played his state cricket for Queensland before getting picked for Australia.

Renshaw is sure to be compared to Hayden for much of his career and the 45-year-old is mightily impressed with the youngster’s efforts.

Only Smith has scored more runs for Australia in India, with Renshaw’s 164 runs coming at an average of 41 – and in 414 deliveries, a stat that delights Hayden.

“The hardest skill for a batsman in Test cricket to perform consistently is leaving the ball,” he said.

“The second-most important skill [scoring runs] naturally flows. Scoring runs is the name of the game but that is ok [if you aren’t] if you have the ability to absorb the pressure.

“When you absorb the pressure, it means you bat time and of course when you bat time, you get runs – and lots of them.

“Matt Renshaw has shown he has both these vitally important skills. The good news is at 20, he has only just begun his journey into crafting the art of batting.”

Guarav Joshi is a freelance cricket writer. He has previously worked for Cricket Australia, ABC Radio, BBC Asia and ESPN Cricinfo.

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