Smith is key as Australia assemble squad for third India Test | Australian sport

As Australia headed to India this year to challenge for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, one thing they relied on was experience. David Warner and Steve Smith will lead their third Test tour of the country, after 22 IPL seasons between them. Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc could not boast of such IPL records, but they would also be making their third test journey. Patrick Cummins will lead the side after his return to Test cricket in 2017, waking up Indian batsmen with bouncers on a slumbering Ranchi track.

The best designed designs of mice and men. Starc started the tour injured, denying Australia the advantages of his reverse swing and lower runs. Warner got off to a poor start before having his arm broken by Mohammed Siraj and being sent home. Meanwhile, Cummins started the tour knowing his mother was ill, not knowing she would have to leave after the second Test as she entered palliative care.

The seriousness of this situation showed the absurdity of some of the laments about the team’s results on the field. At the same time, the tour continues and the tourists must find a way to get back into it when the third Test starts in Indore on Wednesday. Starc is finally fit to play, albeit with some limitations still on his damaged finger on his bowling hand.

So does wonder all-rounder Cameron Green, who at number six joins a line-up full of Indian debutants: Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Alex Carey. Even Usman Khawaja, with vast experience elsewhere, has batted for the first time in India. Peter Handscomb is essentially the opposite of Khawaja, now having his best performances in two tours of India while playing just a dozen times elsewhere.

These are the players tasked with turning around a terrible tour. Australian teams have played 76 times in India. 91 in Nagpur to start this series is the lowest score of all. Delhi’s 113 to waste a winning run is sixth on this list. Only twice in Test history have Australia conceded nine wickets cheaper than that day in the Indian capital – the famous Cape Town 2011 9 for 21, and while they took 47 more wickets in the 2005 victory over the short-lived World XI in Sydney.

What Australia really need, above all else, is Smith’s return to making runs. Perhaps his temporary return to captaincy will help him click. His 2017 tour was one of the greats: Alastair Cook is the only other visiting captain to have matched Smith’s three centuries in a series in India. Retrieving this peak is unrealistic, but something half-decent might do the trick.

“It usually brings the best out of me, I’m excited to be leading this week,” he said before the race. “I know these conditions well. It’s like my second home playing here. I have played a lot in India, I understand the intricacies of the game and what the wickets are likely to do. I’m looking forward to it.”

The changes in the batting line-up seem obvious: Move on to replace Warner and join Khawaja at the top of the order, Labuschagne and Smith form their middle block, Handscomb to five to replace the underperforming Matthew Renshaw and Green with Carey to round things out.

Bowling is more difficult. Smith mentioned that Green’s inclusion opened up the possibilities for an extra strike, keeping three spins or for extra “air speed”. Neither of these seems likely. Green as the fourth bowler would light the attack. Lyon worked well with youngsters Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann in Delhi, but Murphy did not bowl in training the day before the Test, suggesting his side strain remains an issue. The wind speed would suggest the presence of an uncapped fast man, Lance Morris pepper India, but Morris went through the same workout as a net bowler he sent off-spin.

All this means that the likely formation will be Scott Boland, who was good in Nagpur, to join Starc, Green, Lyon and Kuhnemann, unless there is a late decision to add Mitchell Swepson’s leg-spin to the off- Lyon’s break and Kuhnemann’s left- arm orthodox. The Indore pitch is bare at both ends but the possibility of a slow turn makes this move unlikely. As has been the case on this tour, injury and absence have made most of Australia’s selection decisions for them.

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