Who would be Australia’s second spinner?


The Australia squad named for the Test series against New Zealand was probably one of the simpler discussions the selectors have had in recent times following back-to-back innings victories over Pakistan. However, there could be some tricky decisions on the horizon, most significantly around who would be the second spinner should one be needed in Sydney and then, certainly, on the tour of Bangladesh next year.

Selection chairman Trevor Hohns left room for an additional player to be added to the 13-man squad against New Zealand if conditions dictate, a definite nod towards a different balance of the side, and confirmed – without naming them – that a handful of spinners around the country will be told to keep themselves ready to support Nathan Lyon.

“We will be putting a couple of spinners on notice to make sure they’re doing extra work in case they’re required,” Hohns said. “I won’t nominate them now, because they haven’t been informed. But we’re going into a Big Bash period, so we’ll want anyone nominated to be doing extra work throughout the Big Bash series.”

Earlier this year, Shane Warne said Australia’s spin options behind Lyon were a “real issue” if he were injured or needed support.

So who are the names heading the back-up list? (Statistics for this Sheffield Shield season, up to December 4)

Jon Holland (8 wickets at 59.25)

When Australia last fielded two frontline spinners, against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, it was Holland who had the second-spinner’s role. He went wicketless in a heavy defeat, but remained in the selectors’ thinking as part of the Australia A squad that toured England ahead of the Ashes. In the end Australia went without a second spinner for that series. This season has so far been hard work for Holland in the Sheffield Shield but, with international experience under his belt, he will likely remain in contention.

Steve O’Keefe (10 wickets at 18.70)

It takes a while, but if you scan down the Sheffield Shield wicket-takers for the season, you will eventually hit O’Keefe who is the leading spinner for New South Wales so far with 10 wickets at an average under 20. However, at 34, and with a few strikes against his name, it feels as though his time has passed even though he probably remains the second-best spinner in the country. If the selectors wanted someone who would not be overawed by the occasion, O’Keefe ticks plenty of boxes.

Ashton Agar (3 wickets at 136)

The bowling numbers certainly don’t scream “pick me” for Agar, who made his Test debut back in 2013 when he struck 98 from No. 11 against England, but there is an all-round package that could make him attractive to the selectors. If Australia fielded a second spinner it would mean a different balance to the side and one option could be to play Agar at No. 7 – leaving out a specialist batsman – and still field three quick bowlers. He has averaged 52.40 with the bat in the Sheffield Shield this season and is also an outstanding fielder.

Mitchell Swepson (10 wickets at 21.20)

There is momentum growing behind Queensland legspinner Swepson after his match-winning return of 7 for 92 against Victoria in Melbourne. At 26, he has had time to learn his game – and has spent time getting advice from Warne – and the onus will now be on Queensland to try and ensure they can find a place for him in the XI regardless of home conditions at the Gabba. Since the start of last season, he is the joint-leading wicket-taker among spinners, along with Holland, in the Shield with 34 wickets at 33.17.

Marnus Labuschagne (4 wickets at 51.00* including Pakistan Tests)

He’s already cemented in the XI and while he can’t yet be classed as more than a good part-timer there is potential for Labuschagne to play a big role with his legspin. He could have had a couple of wickets against Pakistan and, although he delivers some loose stuff, has pretty good control of all his variations. If it continues to develop there is certainly the scope for him to be a legitimate second option with Lyon, especially on home soil.

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