Mitchell Starc has been officially ruled out of the first Test against India in Nagpur but has still been named Australia’s 18-member touring squad for the four-Test series on Wednesday which features four spin options including uncapped Victoria offspinner Todd Murphy.
Starc suffered a finger tendon injury during the Boxing Day Test against South Africa and was ruled out of the third and final Test of the series in Sydney.
Australia’s selectors confirmed on Wednesday he would not be available for the first Test in Nagpur starting on February 9. Starc won’t join the squad until the lead-up to the second Test in Delhi. Cameron Green, who is recovering from a broken finger, will travel with the squad ahead of the first Test.
Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb have been included as the back-up batters with Marcus Harris missing out on selection for the tour. There is no back-up wicketkeeper named in the squad meaning that Handscomb will be the only option to keep at short notice if Alex Carey picks up an injury.
Chairman of selectors George Bailey confirmed that they thought long and hard about taking Josh Inglis on tour but opted to allow him to remain at home to play Sheffield Shield.
“We put a lot of thought into that,” Bailey said. “Josh is absolutely still our backup or number two wicketkeeper. But we’re also conscious that he has been on a number of tours and hasn’t actually been able to play a great deal of cricket. We know having Pete Handscomb on tour if something really short-term happens that he could jump in for a day but given the ease that we can get Josh on a plane and over to India if he needs to take over from Kez [Carey] for a Test match, we’ve prioritized that so he’ll get a couple of short games in at home.”
Lance Morris has been retained in the squad and could come into contention to play in the first Test if Australia wanted extra ball speed in Nagpur while Starc is absent. Scott Boland has also retained his place in the squad as a back-up seamer after losing his place in Australia’s XI for the final Test against South Africa.
Bailey said the four spinners give the squad flexibility in terms of potential partners for Lyon.
“Ashton Agar continues to impress following his comeback in Sydney and we believe left-arm finger spin will play an important role in Indian conditions,” Bailey said.
“Mitchell Swepson has recent Test experience in the sub-continent and offers leg-spinning variety.
“Todd Murphy has progressed quickly having impressed in domestic cricket and recently with Australia A. With those performances Todd has emerged as a strong spin option.
“Selection in this squad also provides another opportunity to spend time alongside Nathan Lyon and assistant coach Daniel Vettori in India which will be invaluable to his development.”
Handscomb’s inclusion comes after he was called up to Australia’s squad during the Sydney Test as cover after Harris was sent back to the BBL. Both Handscomb and Renshaw played all four Tests on Australia’s last tour of India in 2017. Renshaw made two half-centuries while Handscomb made a match-saving 200-ball 72 not out in Ranchi. He has also been the leading runscorer in Sheffield Shield cricket in the past two seasons.
“Peter Handscomb deserves his place back in the squad,” Bailey said. “His domestic form has been strong recently and Pete has proven he can perform at Test level.
“His experience against spin on the subcontinent is valuable and he is also an exceptionally good close to the wicket catcher.”
Handscomb did cop a blow on the hip bone while batting in a Victoria T20 Super Slam game for premier club St Kilda on Tuesday night. He did retire hurt but it is believed that the injury is minor and he will be fine to tour India.
“Pete’s got a scan tomorrow morning, I believe to check on that,” Bailey said. “He’s quite confident it’s nothing too serious.
“He just caught copped a ball on the back hip and then three balls later, I think he just hit one and just felt something gave a little bit in there. So I don’t really have any more information than that. We’ll get the scan tomorrow. Clearly, there’s still quite a bit of time between now and when we depart and then even when the first Test is so we’ll work through that as we get more information.”
Bailey also stated that the selectors will review the squad after the second Test and could make additions given there is a seven-day break between the second Test in Delhi and the third Test in Dharamshala.