The Sydney Sixers have an embarrassment of off-spinning riches at their disposal but will the form of Australia’s next best thing leave the GOAT on the outer?
Despite a Cricket Australia-led push to get as many Australian internationals as possible into the second half of the Big Bash, the Sixers are expected to back in Lyon’s Test understudy Todd Murphy and veteran spinner Steve O’Keefe instead for the top of the table clash.
O’Keefe is expected to be the first spinner chosen, with 22-year-old Murphy favoured to oust his much more experienced fellow off-spinner Lyon – who averages just 21 in T20 cricket – from the attack.
It’s a shock reversal of the master and apprentice roles in the Test set-up when the Aussies tackle India.
Fans have been anticipating the blockbuster returns of Steve Smith and Lyon to the Sixers XI, but unless there’s a late change of plans, the greatest off-spinner in Australian Test history is expected to be left on the sidelines.
Teams won’t be confirmed until the toss.
The Sixers are currently second on the Big Bash ladder with six wins and three losses, and twin spinners Murphy and O’Keefe have been playing a key part in their success through the first half of the competition.
The Sixers’ history of success has been built on making cricketing selection and recruitment decisions rather than marketing ones.
But if Lyon is left out as is anticipated, it’s unlikely to please Cricket Australia bosses who have been spruiking the return of Test stars to the competition.
Not only that, Lyon has a brilliant bowling average in domestic T20 cricket, with bucket loads of international experience.
He has been a key part of the Sixers dynasty over recent years.
Lyon has been a loyal servant of the Sixers over many years, consistently making himself available when his Test duties are completed.
CA and the clubs (Sixers included) have put a lot of effort into getting Smith and David Warner back into the league this season, in the hope it might lay a platform for more Test stars to involve themselves in future summers.
Test stars like Lyon, Travis Head, Alex Carey, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja have not been offered the same incentives but are all suiting up for this season.
There is a hope CA and the Australian Cricketers Association will be able to write it into the contracts of Australian players that they must play in the BBL unless unavailable through injury or resting when the next MOU is signed off.
It’s a massive show of faith in Murphy who will be Lyon’s understudy on the Test tour of India next month.
Left-arm O’Keefe has been one of the most successful bowlers in BBL history.
Can off-spinning differences create ideal India combo?
Selection boss George Bailey has denied Todd Murphy is being thrown to the wolves in India and would have no reservations handing him a stunning Test debut next month.
Murphy has played just seven first-class matches but at 22 years of age has been hand-picked to potentially go head-to-head with Indian superstar Virat Kohli – as Bailey declared ‘this is no development tour.’
Bailey admits there is a question mark over how off-spinner Murphy can fit into an attack already featuring fellow offie Nathan Lyon, but made it clear the Victorian is firmly in the frame to earn the ultimate baptism of fire in India.
“I’m always pretty interested in that whole narrative around (what is a) good and a bad time to debut someone,” Bailey said.
“I’m sure if you asked the player, ‘we’re thinking about playing you, mate, but we’re just going to hold off until we think we can find an easy game.’
“I’m not sure they’d be that keen on that. We don’t pick someone unless we think they’re ready to perform if they get an opportunity.
“I’m really excited for Todd. We’ve had him on an Australia A tour. He’s played a Prime Minister’s XI game at the start of the summer and just watching him really closely for Victoria, he’s a great kid.
“… Absolutely he’s a chance to play. This is certainly not a development tour. He’s earned his spot through his performances and what we think he can do.”
Murphy has the added benefit of getting the best insight he possibly could going into the biggest moment of his cricketing life, given he can work hand-in-hand with Lyon and Australia’s 2017 Indian success story Steve O’Keefe over the next three weeks in the Big Bash League.
Lyon and Steve Smith return for the Sixers this Sunday at the SCG, while O’Keefe could also be invaluable for Murphy to impart what his mindset was when he took 12 wickets on a raging turner in Pune six years ago.
“To be able to start having those conversations now about what I might be in for over there is going to be really good to set me up over there,” Murphy said on Wednesday.
“I found out yesterday morning. George Bailey gave me a call. It was really thrilling to see his name pop up. Some good news for me which is awesome.
“He said it’s going to be an awesome opportunity to go over there and try and learn about what cricket is in the subcontinent. He was mainly congratulating me and telling me to enjoy the moment.
“It took a while for it to sink in. I called mum and dad straight away and shared the news with them and they were rapt for me. It took a couple of hours for me to realise what’s about to happen. It’s sunk in now and it’s really exciting.
Australia has indicated left-armer Ashton Agar is its second choice spinner after Lyon.
Leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson is also on the tour, but like Murphy, may need a situation where Australia plays three spinners to get a game – something which is a realistic possibility particularly in the first Test in Nagpur.
Bailey said Lyon and Murphy are not the same bowler despite both being offies – and the same goes for part-timer Travis Head, who also brings variations on the same skill.
“Whether he (Murphy) can play alongside Gaz (Lyon) is a question,” Bailey said.
“But they are different as far as off-spinners go. I don’t think you’re necessarily looking at the same type of bowler.
“We’ll get across and assess the conditions and what we think we need once we hit the ground.”
Victorian opener Marcus Harris toured around with Australia for the whole summer as the back-up batsman only to be axed for the Indian tour.
Bailey said Harris is seen more as an Australian and English conditions specialist, and the run-making skills of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb were preferred for India.
After being leapfrogged by Renshaw for the vacant spot at No. 6 for the Sydney Test, Harris has told selectors he wants a chance to prove he can bat in the middle-order as well to increase his chances of being picked in the future.
AUSTRALIA SQUAD: David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon, Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Mitchell Swepson, Todd Murphy, Lance Morris
Originally published as Cricket news: Nathan Lyon set to be left out of Sixers team for Test understudy Todd Murphy