Australia dropped middle-order batter Travis Head and handed uncapped off-spinner Todd Murphy his debut for the opening test against India in Nagpur on Thursday.
Touring captain Pat Cummins won an important toss and elected to bat in spin-friendly conditions at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.
“We are going to bat. Looks like a pretty even wicket towards the middle. 2017 was a big series. Can’t wait to get this started. We have had good preparation. We feel we are really well placed. Two changes Todd Murphy in. Handscomb in for Travis Head," Cummins said after winning the toss.
Head, 29, is currently sitting at number four in the ICC Test batting rankings, and made 525 runs at an average of 87.5 against the West Indies and South Africa in the home summer.
Steve Waugh tore into the decision, saying: “Hard to believe we can drop the number 4 ranked test batsman in the world and probably our best batsman in the last 12 months plus he bowls better than average off spin - let’s wait and see-maybe the Aussie selectors are genius’s!"
In fact, in-form Head has historically struggled in Asia, but enjoyed an outstanding summer in which he averaged 95.13. Peter Handscomb was named instead of fellow left-hander Matt Renshaw, who, like Handscomb, has experience in India having toured in 2017.
Former Australia opener Matthew Hayden, commentating on the match, was also left baffled over Head’s exclusion. “?I can’t believe it. He was the player of the summer. Totally different conditions I know in Brisbane but his 90 there was just so damn good."
“He made it look like it was flat, and it wasn’t. It was an absolute raging green top. But his mindset and his ability to be able to score quickly, and he’s a good player of spin as well. I’m just speechless."
Head’s exclusion for the Nagpur Test may have got to do with his previous struggles in the subcontinent, averaging just 21.30. Moreover, on Australia’s tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year, Head fell to spinners five out of six times.
Speaking on Fox Sports, former Australia wicketkeeper Brad Haddin suggested Handscomb having a better record against spin may have resulted in him getting the nod over Head. “?Peter Handscomb is known as being a really good player of spin bowling, he has played well here in the past."
“Travis Head’s record in the subcontinent has been poor. It won’t be the last time we see him in the subcontinent, I think he just needs a little bit more time to get used to his game in these conditions."?
IND v AUS, 1st Test, Day 1: FOLLOW LIVE
For India, Suryakumar Yadav, the top-ranked Twenty20 batter, will make his test debut alongside wicketkeeper KS Bharat.
India captain Rohit Sharma said they too would have preferred to bat first.
“We’d have batted first but I think we’ve got a quality bowling attack and hopefully we can restrict them to as low as possible," Rohit said.
“Looks pretty dry. There will be help for spinners. We got to wait and see how much it does. Yesterday when we started training we did see some seam movement for the pacers up front. We have had a good prep for the last 5-6 days. We trained on the aspects in store. This is a big one. We know the importance of the series but we also understand it’s about winning one session at a time. It’s a long series," he added.
Delhi, Dharamsala and Ahmedabad host the other matches of the four-test series.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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