Australia has the right players in India, you just have to pick them

The Australian men’s test team had an almost preordained horrific tour of India and there’s a lot of blame to be had. But we have the right team on site to at least contest the third and fourth tests; we just have to choose this team.

The Blame Game

Australia’s sports media were rightly sharp in their analysis of the tour of India. Unsurprisingly, if utterly disheartening, the Australian public was both enraged and mortified at their contempt – but those are the joys of social media anonymity, aren’t they?

Many of the criticisms leveled at the team were short-sighted and caustic for spice’s sake. There were numerous bright spots throughout the series, such as the batting performances of Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne and the bowling form of Todd Murphy and Nathan Lyon.

Unfortunately, many other reviews were entirely justified. Any player caught attempting any kind of sweep shot for the remainder of the test series should be forced to donate $1000 to the victims of the Turkiye earthquake and Syria or to the defense of Ukraine or something.

NAGPUR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 11: Players shake hands after India defeats Australia on day three of the first Test match in the series between India and Australia at Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground on February 11, 2023 in Nagpur, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Australia’s on-field tactics have been mostly apathetic and it’s unclear whether Australia captain Pat Cummins or the coaching staff are to blame. Subsequent revelations that Cummins’ mother is dying should (hopefully) serve to exonerate the captain somewhat, but only serve to further indict the inaction of the Australian coaching staff.

Let’s get one thing straight, though: the answer isn’t and never was Justin Langer.

And it’s those rather undefinable off-field aspects of cricket – the picks, the coaching, the backroom talks and so on – that were Australia’s ultimate downfall of this Indian series.

The selectors botched everything from the start by focusing too intensely on the condition and characteristics of the wickets, which served to mold our batters’ fears while similarly failing to select a team that might win.

Case in point: that Travis Head was dropped from the first test and that a whole crew of weirdos were shipped to the subcontinent showed the ultimate short-sightedness of our selectors. Travis Head bowls much better as a part-time off-spin and is also the fourth-ranked Test batter in the world – even three of the top-4. There was no need to overload our roster with multiple freshly minted rookie spinners when our top three hitters – Labuschagne, Smith and Head – all made bowl spins (with varying degrees of success).

With the selection being so influenced by hype and perception – the first win for India’s Test team, let alone the local media – we ended up sending three injured Pacemen, an untried rookie and the indefatigable Scott Boland. Still at home are Michael Neser – who should have been a ban given his skill with ball and bat – as well as the likes of Wes Agar, Mark Steketee and Sean Abbott.

Scott Boland of Australia celebrates after taking his first Test wicket, sacking Mark Wood of England, during day one of the third Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia has. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

What’s done is done

The injuries sustained by Australian bowlers in the run-up to this series in India have certainly paralyzed the selection to some extent and no one in their right mind would dream of leaving Mitchell Starc or Cameron Green at home given the chance existed that they could do well tour. But Josh Hazlewood’s story, unfortunately, should have seen him walk away from home in favor of Neser, and at least one of the debutant spinners should have given way to Glenn Maxwell (admittedly, that last pick is debatable at best).

However, those players are not on tour (yet) and we have sent home Hazlewood as well as David Warner with injury and Pat Cummins with genuine personal concerns. Mitchell Swepson has already left, as has Ashton Agar, leaving a severely reduced squad to choose from.

But the makings of a competitive and experienced Australian test team are still in sight.

While Cameron Bancroft and Matthew Short will hopefully be under discussion to join the team for the upcoming Ashes tour in England, Travis Head and Usman Khawaja both batted well in India and should open.

Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith will certainly both keep their third and fourth places. While Labuschagne has suffered from some bad luck and a lack of discipline, both can be dealt with if he persists. Smith, on the other hand, just needs to get back to hitting the way he’s been hitting and get rid of any subcontinent-specific lessons he may have taught himself.

Similarly, Smith will hopefully give the captain a competitive advantage.

Peter Handscomb has long been denied his rightful place on the Australian Test team and will hopefully remain there for a while. Cameron Green is preparing to return from injury, while someone just has to give Alex Carey a metaphorical punch to the head in the hopes it will give his punch some meaning.

That’s the top 7 from Head, Khawaja, Labuschagne, Smith, Handscomb, Green and Carey, leaving room for four bowlers.

Mitchell Starc has said he’s ready to go despite a few complaints. This will be a blessed relief to the Aussies, who have needed his skill and presence around the circle – and in the batting lineup – from the start.

Both Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy are sure to keep their spots as both bowled well and at times brilliantly – first Test for Murphy, second Test for Lyon.

Last place should obviously go to Scott Boland, who bowled well in the first test and can mimic Cummins’ enduring line and length. With Lyon and Murphy in and Head in reserve, Australia can return to a pace-dominated attack led by Starc and Boland and with Green on hand to fill in the extra overs and give the Indians some extra pep.

The fact that it has taken so long for Starc and Green to return from injury is unfortunate and has enabled the rediscovery of Peter Handscomb, but the third Test at Indore should finally see an Australian team made up of our best – not just them , which were deemed necessary after our selectors were fooled by an infinitely confident Indian team playing at home. Australia has the right players in India, you just have to pick them

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