Finger spinners Ashton Agar and Todd Murphy have been named in the Prime Minister’s XI squad to play West Indies in Canberra as national selectors look to give a range of spinners Australia A opportunities ahead of next year’s tour of India.
The PM XI’s match is a four-day day-night first-class fixture starting on November 23 and is being used by the touring team as a warm-up for the two-Test series which begins in Perth on November 30.
Australia’s selection panel is treating the game like an Australia A fixture, selecting a very strong squad that will be led by Test understudy wicketkeeper Josh Inglis and features Test squad member Marcus Harris and fringe Test seamer Michael Neser who played in the Ashes last year.
Legspinner Mitchell Swepson was a notable absentee from the squad just 24 hours after being left out of the Test squad, having played in Australia’s last four Tests in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Jhye Richardson was also a notable omission given he took five wickets in Australia’s last pink ball Test in Adelaide last year.
It is the first of two Australia A fixtures that will be played this summer with another to be played against South Africa in December. ESPNCricinfo understands that a range of players will be used across the two matches with the bowlers likely to be rotated. Both Swepson and Richardson could yet play for Australia A against South Africa in December. Swepson will also have a four-day red-ball Sheffield Shield fixture to play in for Queensland against South Australia at Adelaide Oval while the PM’s XI match is going on in Canberra, where he is likely to do a lot more bowling.
Jon Holland is the other spinner who has not been named in the PM’s XI squad having been drafted into both the Australia A Test squad in Sri Lanka midyear but he is currently recovering from injury. He too remains on the selectors’ radar.
But it is instructive that both Agar and Murphy have been named given Australia’s Test team will tour India next year for four Tests in February and March.
Swepson took 10 wickets at 45.80 and struck at 89.20 in his four recent Test appearances as the second spinner alongside Nathan Lyon. He did bowl better than those figures suggested at times, particularly in Sri Lanka, but his wrist spin was less effective at times than finger spin in those conditions.
Agar was a chance to play in the most recent Test series in Sri Lanka until he suffered a significant side strain. Agar has not played Test cricket since 2017 and hasn’t played first-class cricket since April 2021 due to his commitments with Australia’s limited-overs sides. He has a middling first-class record overall averaging 41.28 and striking at 80.7. In the four Test matches he has played he has one less wicket than Swepson, averaging 45.55 and strikes at 97.1 but does have a slightly better economy rate.
India’s success with finger spinners Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin and Axar Patel in home conditions has been noted by Australia. Left-arm orthodox Steve O’Keefe took 12 wickets in Australia’s last Test win in India in 2017 while New Zealand’s Ajaz Patel took 14 wickets including 10 in an innings in a Test in Mumbai in December last year.
Chairman of selectors George Bailey suggest on Wednesday, ahead of the PM’s XI squad announcement, that there could be some different names being looked at for the India tour compared to the squad picked for the home Tests against West Indies and South Africa.
“I would envisage the tour to India may have some different names to it than what the tour does over the [Australian] summer, just because of the conditions,” Bailey said.
“They are every chance to be very different.
“Because it’s an away tour you take a slightly bigger squad anyway.
“Plus it’s at the back of a [home] summer and there’s a reasonable amount of cricket that would have been played by then.”
Glenn Maxwell could well come into contention for the India tour and may get the chance to play some first-class cricket in December for the first time since 2019. Maxwell will be available for Victoria’s last Sheffield Shield match before the BBL break against New South Wales on December 1 and possibly the Australia A game against South Africa ahead of the first Test in Brisbane on December 17, although Melbourne Stars’ first BBL match falls on December 13 which could create a scheduling conflict one way or the other.
Peter Handscomb is also firmly back in the Test mix for the tour of India as he is in some of the best form of his career having scored runs consistently on a range of different surfaces around Australia over the last 18 months.
“Pete remains absolutely on our radar,” Bailey said.
“He was selected on the Australia A tour to Sri Lanka in the winter, [but missed it due to] having a baby at the same time.
“He’s started the season fantastically and finished the last Shield year fantastically.”
Both he and Matt Renshaw have been named in the PM’s XI side and both men played on Australia’s last tour of India in 2017. Renshaw is one of three specialist openers named in the PM’s XI alongside Harris and South Australia’s Henry Hunt. All three played in the same Australia A side in Sri Lanka midyear.
Prime Minister’s XI squad vs West Indies: Josh Inglis (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Peter Handscomb, Aaron Hardie, Marcus Harris, Henry Hunt, Todd Murphy, Michael Neser, Matt Renshaw, Mark Steketee