Aussies bank on Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon

The onus will be on Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon to outwit the Indians, who have been in top form this season at home and have been undefeated against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh.

Australian captain Steve Smith juggles with a tennis ball during his team's practice session at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai on Wednesday.   -  REUTERS

Australia will rely heavily on its new ball operators, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, to tilt matches in its favour in the forthcoming four-Test series against India. Four years ago when Australia toured India, Starc played two Tests, in Chennai and Mohali, and did not meet with much success, picking up just two wickets. Hazlewood, on the other hand, has not played in India in any format of the game. Bought by Mumbai Indians for $100,000 for the 2015 IPL, Cricket Australia did not release Hazlewood, as it wanted to safeguard the player for Test cricket.

Both the fast bowlers are proven performers though, with Starc having claimed 143 wickets in 34 Tests and Hazlewood 109 in 26 Tests. Starc has figured in 16 Australian wins, while Hazlewood in 14 but none of them has been in South Asia. In that sense, the two bowlers have an uphill task.

Australia’s skipper Steve Smith and coach Darren Lehmann made significant statements about their main wicket-takers during a press conference on arrival on Tuesday. Smith said both Starc and Hazlewood are excellent practitioners of reverse swing, while Lehmann said that he is eager to see them in action, especially after they had trained in Dubai with Indian SG balls.

Josh Hazlewood (left) and Mitchell Starc... Australia's fortunes in India depend upon the performances of these two fast bowlers.   -  Getty Images

As far as the third seamer is concerned, Smith has Jackson Bird (34 wickets in eight Tests). The selectors somehow did not think it wise to rush Pat Cummins who, according to former Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, should have been in the squad. Making his debut at the age of 18, Cummins impressed with six wickets for 79 in the second innings of the Wanderers Test against South Africa five years ago. However, hampered by injuries, including a stress fracture of the lower back, Cummins has not played a second Test. Clearly the Australian selectors want him to be fit as a fiddle for the Ashes. He is part of the current Australian ODI squad, though.

Last December, Lee was of the view that Cummins was being protected by the Australian selectors, and that should he miss the tour of India, the bowler would “fail to learn vital lessons about what his body is capable of.’’

Lee added: “Whether they will (pick Cummins) or not, there’s a lot of red-flagging going on about players being on the cusp of getting injured. I am sick of reading about that, to be honest. If they’re not prepared to play him, let him bowl in the nets and just bowl and bowl and bowl. Just get him in that mix again where he’s confident, and he knows his body and that he’s bowling under duress. You can’t just go from a Shield match or one first-grade game and expect to go and play Test cricket. You need to keep playing a lot of cricket.”

Smith will expect off-spinner Nathan Lyon, on his second tour of India, to exploit the pitch conditions. Lyon has 228 wickets from 63 Tests. He took 15 wickets in the 2012-13 series in India, with a 7 for 94 in the first innings of the Kotla Test. Lyon, Ashton Agar, Stephen O’Keefe (both left-arm spinners), Mitchell Swepson (leg-spinner) and Glenn Maxwell (off-spinner) give options to their captain.

The full Australian team arrived at the Brabourne Stadium at 1p.m. on Wednesday and practised until 4 p.m. The attention was on Starc and Hazlewood.

Australia’s best series win in India (3-1) came under Bill Lawry, who deployed bowlers like seamers Graham McKenzie (21 wickets) and Allan Connolly (17) and off-spinner Ashley Mallett (28) and leg-spinner Johnie Gleeson (10). In 2004 when Australia won the series 2-1, its bowling stalwarts were Jason Gillespie (20 wickets), Glenn McGrath (14), Michael Kasprowicz (9) and Shane Warne (14).

This time around, the onus will be on Starc, Hazlewood and Lyon to outwit the Indians who have been in top form this season at home and have been undefeated against New Zealand, England and Bangladesh.