Nathan Lyon admits he felt for Mitchell Swepson after the leg-spinner’s ODI snub as Australia consider whether that duo’s spin union represents their best chance of victory in the upcoming Test campaign.
In the absence of Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa, Swepson was a surprise omission for Sunday’s six-wicket defeat in Colombo as the Aussies instead went for newcomer Matthew Kuhnemann and deepened their batting with a handful of allrounders.
It is a separate format but the tourists’ preference for finger-spin is a window into their thinking ahead of the two-Test campaign in Galle, where Australia are expecting surfaces to offer far more turn than what they encountered in Pakistan earlier this year.
On sharp-spinning pitches that are common on the subcontinent Test teams in recent times have typically favored accurate finger-spinners, who, the theory goes, challenge batters’ outside edges and their stumps more regularly than wrist-spinners.
Before Swepson, all of Lyon’s previous Test spin partners had been left-arm orthodox bowlers who turn the ball the opposite direction to him; Agar, Stephen O’Keefe and Jon Holland.
Lyon, who arrived in Sri Lanka late last week, insisted on Monday that he expects the Sri Lanka Tests to be a “two-spin operation” while selectors are open to even playing three spinners.
Agar’s side strain, which he has conceded could sideline for him for both Tests, could open the door for Kuhnemann to bolt into the Test squad if he shows enough in the one-day series or for Holland to resume his Test career having been flown over for the second Australia A four-dayer in Hambantota starting tomorrow.
It appears certain at least one of Kuhnemann or Holland, who made his debut in Sri Lanka in 2016 but hasn’t played Test cricket in four years, will be drafted in as cover for Agar.
Lyon suggests Swepson will have learned from his maiden Test campaign in Pakistan, having shown promise with two wickets in his first innings but then failed to break through in his next three on tracks that offered him little assistance.
“I do feel a bit for Swepo, it’s pretty hard when you get one crack and then you miss the next (game),” Lyon said of Swepson’s ODI omission after he took 1-58 in the second match in Kandy.
“No doubt he’s been told the reasons why and he’ll be able to go away and work on those areas – I’m not sure what those areas are. He seems to be ok and in pretty good spirits.
“I was really happy and really pleased with our partnership together in Pakistan. I know he didn’t have the ideal tour that he wanted but he’s a very team focused player and we got the right team result.
“I think there’s still a lot of learning for both of us, especially in this part of the world. We’re excited about the challenges coming up.”
Lyon has been a mentor of spells to all three of the spinners originally picked in the Australia A squad.
Australia’s greatest ever off-spinner had one-on-one net sessions with both Kuhnemann and Todd Murphy during the Adelaide Sheffield Shield ‘bubble’ at the start of the 2020-21 season, while he has worked with Tanveer Sangha with his state side, New South Wales.
After taking four wickets in the two one-dayers for Australia A, Kuhnemann bolted into the ODI team in Sri Lanka after coming off a strong Shield summer with Queensland, netting 25 scalps at 31 in his first full campaign having previously waited in the shadow of Bulls teammate Swepson.
Murphy is a rawer prospect, having played two first-class matches before earning his Australia A selection, though the 21-year-old impressed with four first-innings wickets against Sri Lanka A last week.
“I’m a big fan of Matt. He’s a pretty composed character so I think that can go a long way into the start of his international career,” Lyon said of the 25-year-old Kuhnemann.
“He’s performed very well in that A game and then through (Agar’s) injury he got his opportunity. He seemed to go ok in his debut game.
“(There’s a) big future for both Matt and Todd. They’re young and they’re learning, which is a really good sign for Australian spin stocks.”
Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka, 2022
June 7: Australia won first T20 by 10 wickets
June 8: Australia won second T20 by three wickets
June 11: Sri Lanka won third T20 by four wickets
Sri Lanka ODI squad: Dasun Shanaka (c), Pathum Nissanka, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dinesh Chandimal, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Niroshan Dickwella, Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera, Asitha Fernando, Nuwan Thushara, Ramesh Mendis, Maheesh Theekshana, Praveen Jayawickrama, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lahiru Madushanka, Dunith Wellalage, Pramod Madushan
Australia ODI squad: Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Matt Kuhnemann, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc , Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
June 14: Australia won by two wickets (DLS)
June 16: Sri Lanka won by 26 runs (DLS)
June 19: Sri Lanka won by six wickets
June 21: Fourth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 24: Fifth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
Sri Lanka Test squad (provisional): Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Pathum Nissanka, Kamil Mishara, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya De Silva, Kamindu Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Chamika Karunaratne, Ramesh Mendis, Mohamed Shiraz, Shiran Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lakshitha Rasanjana, Praveen Jayawickrama, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suminda Lakshan
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
June 29 – July 3: First Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
July 8-12: Second Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
All Sri Lanka v Australia international fixtures will be screened live on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports
Australia A fixtures
Australia A squad: Scott Boland, Aaron Hardie, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Henry Hunt, Josh Inglis, Matthew Kuhnemann, Nic Maddinson, Nathan McAndrew, Todd Murphy, Jimmy Peirson, Josh Philippe, Matt Renshaw, Tanveer Sangha, Mark Steketee
Sri Lanka A one-day squad: Dhananjaya de Silva (c), Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Udara, Lasith Croospulle, Oshada Fernando, Pabasara Waduge, Kamindu Mendis, Ashen Bandara, Janitha Liyanage, Sahan Arachchi, Pulina Tharanga, Dunith Wellalage, Dananjaya Lakshan, Shiran Fernando (will not play due to injury), Dilshan Madushanka, Pramod Madushan, Nishan Madushka, Ashen Daniel, Nisala Tharaka
June 8: Australia A won by seven wickets
June 10: Sri Lanka A won by four wickets
June 14-17: Australia A won by 68 runs
June 21-24: four-day match v Sri Lanka A, Hambantota