Australia’s cricketing summer has been marked by a raft of unexpected selections. If that trend continues, we could see more shock picks for the tour of India.
My biggest smokey for that tour is WA all-rounder Ashton Turner.
I think Australia will bring to India a batting all-rounder who bowls passable spin, to give them the option of playing three frontline quicks at some point.
The leading contenders for that spot would be Glenn Maxwell and Travis Head. My preference would be for Maxwell, but he seems to be on the nose with the Australian selectors and didn’t have a great start to the Sheffield Shield season.
The selectors clearly rate Head very highly and his off spin is improving thanks to bowling a lot of overs in the Shield for South Australia. Turner, however, is clearly a better offie than Head and is third on the Shield run-scoring list this season with 429 runs at 71, including two tons.
What makes that haul even more impressive is that both of his tons were played under huge pressure. Against Tasmania, WA were essentially 5-59 when Adam Voges retired hurt and Turner then peeled off 110 to guide them to a competitive score of 262.
His second ton helped WA pull off a miracle win. In their first innings WA were in tatters at 6-93, in response to Queensland’s 353, when Turner turned the match with a sparkling knock of 100. Most cricket fans are by now well aware of Turner’s talent with the blade.
What many of them don’t know, however, is that the 23-year-old was an off-spinner, first and foremost, when he entered the domestic scene four years ago.
Turner was a bowling all-rounder at that stage and was in competition with Ashton Agar to be the frontline spinner for WA in the Sheffield Shield.
A few months after he earned his WA senior squad selection, Turner was Australia’s leading wicket-taker at the 2012 under-19 World Cup, with 11 wickets at an average of 16.
Last winter Turner did a lot of bowling in the Lancashire Cricket League, a competition which is not far off the standard of Australian first grade district cricket.
He snared 31 wickets at an average of 16 in that competition, which also hosted players like recent South African Test batsman Alviro Petersen, former Pakistani Test batsman Faisal Iqbal, Victorian opener Travis Dean and promising WA batsman Will Bosisto.
In first-class cricket, however, Turner has rarely bowled, sending down just five overs per match, on average, while snaring five wickets at an average of 59, with a good economy rate of 2.94rpo.
There is a good reason why Turner has had so few opportunities with the ball for WA.
He has played two-thirds of his Shield matches at the WACA, which is arguably the worst venue in world cricket for spin bowlers, who routinely get slaughtered in Perth and so are sparingly used at the ground.
Nathan Lyon averages almost 50 in first-class cricket at the WACA, while Steve O’Keefe (66) and Ashton Agar (59) also have horrendous career records there.
Even though the WACA pitch is not as quick as it once was pace still rules the roost at the ground in Shield cricket. The only value of Shield spin bowlers in Perth is to keep up with the required over rate.
That’s why Turner has barely bowled in Shield cricket not because he isn’t up to scratch with the ball.
During his Shield career, WA have always had at least four pace options – three frontline quicks plus one of Mitch Marsh or Hilton Cartwright. When the Warriors do consider using spin they go to Agar. A second spinner is surplus to requirements.
Turner should, in fact, consider moving states to further his Test ambitions. If he played for NSW or South Australia he’d get to do a lot more bowling on their more spin-friendly home decks.
Unlike Turner, who has a long background as a frontline spinner, Head has recently made himself into a slow bowling option for SA, and that undoubtedly has made him a more attractive prospect to the Test selectors. But Head is more suited to bowling in limited overs due to his style of darting the ball in flat at the stumps.
Turner, by comparison, is a more rounded spinner, capable of bowling with enticing loop and drift, or upping his pace and targeting the stumps.
If the selectors want a batting all-rounder who bowls decent spin for the tour of India, and they refuse to pick the dynamic Maxwell, Turner is a better option than Head.