As it ran hot in my WhatsApp chats, so too, I bet, it did in yours.
How in the name of dear sweet Dennis Lillee did Australia’s selectors drop left-handed Travis Head and replace him with left-handed Matthew Renshaw?
How did they look at the Nagpur wicket and not pick a spinner who turns the ball away from India’s plethora of right-handed bats?
You could at least rationalise dropping Head – too many left-handers. Ravi Ashwin could own those people. Particularly as we’d seen what dastardly curators had done to the wicket – stopped rolling it on a length outside a left-hander’s off stump.
There’s preparing a pitch to suit locals and there’s cooking one up. This, friends, is like inviting vegans to a barbecue at Paul Hogan‘s place.
So, fair enough, if you’re dropping Head for that reason. You can understand if not agree.
But to replace left-handed Head – the 29-year-old world No.4 Test bat in the form of his life – with another left-hander without an especially superior record in Asia, friend, it beggars belief.
Renshaw had whacked a few sixes for Sydney Sixers – maybe that’s where George Bailey, Andrew McDonald and Tony Dodemaide took their cues, much as they perhaps did picking the excellent Todd Murphy over left-arm orthodox man Ashton Agar.
But as Pete Lalor mused on Agar in today’s Oz: If not now, when? If not this pitch, what pitch?
I mean – did they bring Agar over as net practice, as a human simulator of Ravi Jadeja?
We may never know.
We do know, or think we know, this: surely, after looking at the pitch, if they’re going to pick Murphy and right-handed Pete Handscomb, and drop Head, then it had to be to make way for a third spinner. And that third spinner had to be left-armer Agar on a pitch that went sideways from ball one.
Renshaw has played 13 Tests and averages 32. In his five Tests against India, all in India, he averages 25.
In four innings against Bangladesh he averages 19.
Whatever Head’s perceived weaknesses are against spin in Asia (where he averages 21), he’s at least the equal of Renshaw, isn’t he?
I say he is, and then some. And he’s incumbent. And he’s really good.
Maybe the local tweakers had made a fool of him in the nets.
Maybe Renshaw had lofted them long down-town.
Or maybe this: the selectors have out-and-out made a decision that cricket writers are politely describing as ‘bold’ but which appears, on face value, as ridiculous as putting a stone patio down in front of the 600-year-old Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews.
Before the series Australians had indulged in that fine past-time of picking the first Test XI. And it was good fun because we haven’t done it for a few years, not with the Test cricket team, anyway, and certainly not at home.
At home, or even in England or South Africa, if the Big Three Quicks are fit, it’s them, Nathan Lyon, the polished Alex Carey, and the Usual Top-Five Suspects of our fine batting order with all-rounder Cameron Green the no-longer missing link.
But prior to the Test series in India, there were all sorts of permutations, particularly with Mitchell Starc injured and Green unable to bowl.
I popped up an XI on the Twitters and they came from everywhere to agree and disagree.
- DA Warner
- UT Khawaja
- M Labuschagne
- SPD Smith
- TM Head
- AT Carey
- PJ Cummins
- T Murphy
- SM Boland
- NM Lyon
- JR Hazlewood
Obviously Hazlewood was ruled out for the first Test and I hadn’t seen the doctored wicket.
So my new XI would’ve kept Head, batted Carey at six and added Agar who can throw the bat a bit at seven and who can, and this is quite important, spin the ball away from India’s right-handers.
I also keep Murphy because I think he’s Gary the Goat II. And without Green, you need two quicks.
But Agar, for mine, on that wicket, was must have.
Yes, yes, yes, oh cricket curmudgeon, a thousand times yes – I agree: it does appear that Agar’s stock delivery doesn’t actually, you know, do a lot, at least off the wicket.
As a spinner he doesn’t appear to, um, how does one put this, spin it.
But then he hasn’t bowled on a wicket like this. Jadeja spun a couple that world No.1 Test batter Marnus Labuschagne wouldn’t have hit with two bats. An arm ball for the ages went through world No.2 Steve Smith.
Granted, Jadeja has 242 Test wickets, 68 of which have come in 13 Tests against Australia.
His average is 18.16 against Australia and he’s had four five-wicket hauls against Australia.
Safe to say he loves bowling to Australians.
And that he’d especially love bowling to them on this tricky-dick of a deck.
But here’s the thing: Agar would’ve too. For while the tall left-armer has 233 less Test wickets than Jadeja and is more likely to beat you with flight from height, on this wicket, even a nude orthodox offie would get purchase when the pill explodes through the crumbly red dirt.
So, yes – I’d have picked Ashton Agar.
And Head over Renshaw because, well, you know, the small matter that he’s better at batting.
Then again, perhaps this ‘bold’ manoeuvre by Bails, Dods and Ronald McDonald will pay off, and Renshaw will caress and bludgeon his way to a glorious 60-odd and give Australia a 200-something run lead and Gary and New Gary will bowl out the excellent Indians on a wicket that, by day four much less day five, should be a crumbling red ruin.
And if that happens I’ll be leaping about on the couch. And will happily cop it sweet should Renshaw and selectors quite justifiably say: stick that in your WhatsApp.