You could tell this was not going to be the kind of balance typically seen for an Australia Test squad at home when Marnus Labuschagne marked out his medium-pace run-up alongside Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood before play on the first day at the SCG, albeit perhaps not totally seriously.
Due to a variety of circumstances, Australia’s injuries—most notably the one to Cameron Green—and the difficulty of adequately replacing two players, it had been one of the more exciting lead-ups to a Test in this country.
Debating the deployment of two spinners is one of the New Year’s Test customs. Both teams chose that path this time. The fact that Ashton Agar built a four-man assault with Cummins and Hazlewood as the sole quicks was somewhat of a surprise from Australia.
In spite of their frail batting, South Africa really seemed to have a more balanced attack with Simon Harmer, Keshav Maharaj, and three specialist quicks. Both sides used two frontline spinners for the first time since the Super Series Test in 2005.
According to Labuschagne, he hasn’t played on a wicket that has turned as much from the middle as it did today due to the dry conditions. In two of the four Test matches this season, Australia’s pace attack experienced an injury that resulted in the removal of a bowler: Cummins in Perth and Green in Melbourne [Mitchell Starc overcame agony to continue];
Hazlewood was making his comeback from a side strain. Putting all of the pace bowling in the hands of two seems a bit risky. But Australia needed some batting stability with a skilled No. 6, so Matt Renshaw was selected.
Shortly after the toss, a Covid-19 test result was discovered. It will be interesting to watch if he truly finishes his Test comeback. Remember Marcus Harris, who has been traveling all summer as the backup hitter and is still unlikely to be called in if a replacement is required.
The most intriguing aspect of the strike, though, was its composition. With all due credit to Labuschagne’s bustling medium-pace, it is quite rare for there to be no third seam option, even though Australia last fielded two frontline spinners in a home Test in 2016–17 when Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe faced Pakistan at the SCG.
There has always been a third-seamer player on the Australian squad in more recent times, even if their main responsibility was batting. For instance, Mark Waugh was present to cheer Craig McDermott and Damien Fleming when Shane Warne and Tim May faced off against England in 1994–1995.
Jumping ahead a few years, Colin Miller started the 1998–1999 Test against England by bowling seam–up before converting to offspring. The ultimate choice in a funk. On that particular day, Mark Waugh’s back required him to switch to offspin, although Steve Waugh was still available in case it was necessary. Glenn McGrath was the frontline fast.
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