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'Hard to believe': Steve Waugh stunned by Head case as Aussies collapse, Warner on last legs - Talking Points

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9th February, 2023
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Former Australia captain Steve Waugh has got a point in questioning Australia’s bold gamble in dropping Travis Head, which backfired big time on day one of the first Test.

Head’s never going to be in better form heading into a series on the subcontinent but the selectors made the call to leave him out of the series opener against India at Nagpur.

Despite being ranked the No.4 batter in the ICC rankings, he was dropped for Peter Handscomb to replace him with Matt Renshaw retaining his spot in the middle order.

Renshaw went for a golden duck – perhaps a little unlucky to be given out LBW to a ball that was just clipping leg stump, while Handscomb made 31 before he was also trapped in front by spin as the Aussies were shot out for 177 inside 64 overs. India surged to 1-77 by stumps with Rohit Sharma cracking an unbeaten 56 from 69 balls.

Waugh was perplexed by the decision to jettison Head from the line-up.

He posted a photo of Head on Instagram with the caption: “Hard to believe we can drop the number 4 ranked test batsman in the world and probably our best batsman in the last 12 months plus he bowls better than average off spin – let’s wait and see-maybe the Aussie selectors are genius’s! gamble #overanalysing? waitandsee.”

Travis Head of Australia bats.

Travis Head. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Head has struggled on turning wickets while Handscomb has a superior reputation for using his feet to spinners.


The 29-year-old South Australian blasted 175 in Adelaide against the West Indies as he amassed 525 runs at 87.5 for the home summer but he had previously had sub-par tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, cobbling together just 91 runs from seven innings at 15.17.

His off-spinners have been handy over the past year too with Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith’s leggies now the only part-time options available to Cummins outside his four frontliners.

Handscomb had not played a Test since the draw with India at Sydney at the start of 2019 but has been the leading runscorer at Shield level this season with 571 at 81.57 for the Vics, including an unbeaten 281.

Warner on last legs

David Warner can consider himself lucky to be spared while Head got lopped – the 36-year-old opener has a poor record in India – he has averaged 24.25 from 16 innings on the past two tours with no tons.

He departed early for just one with Mohammed Shami following the Stuart Broad template of an in-swinger from around the wicket removing his off stump.


“Just have a look at his feet there, he got caught on the crease,” said former Australia keeper Brad Haddin on Fox Cricket commentary. “It was well bowled by Shami, he went around the wicket, attacked the stumps.”

Warner gave the pitch a long, hard look as he departed. He should be doing likewise to a mirror and asking whether he honestly thinks he can suddenly overturn his lack of runs in India at his third attempt.

The pitch had little, if anything, to do with his dismissal – he was late on the shot and Shami went straight through the gate of what used to be a fortress of a defence.

If the selectors are going to be ruthless with Head, they also need to be consistent. Warner surely used up all the credits in the bank during his nearly three-year drought without a hundred in the lead-up to his 200 in the Boxing Day Test win over South Africa.

Renshaw could slot in at the top of the order later in the series if Warner’s Indian woes continue, particularly with all-rounder Cameron Green expected to return from his finger injury into the middle order in the next Test.

Australia’s slim chances of returning from India with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will be non-existent if Warner plays the entire series without somehow miraculously reversing his downward spiral on Indian wickets.

Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith did well to rescue the innings from 2-2 to 2-76 at lunch after Usman Khawaja was given out, barely, on review for LBW. The prolific duo need to be protected from the new ball as much as possible and on recent red-ball form, Renshaw, would be a much better option than Warner.

NAGPUR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 09: David Warner of Australia is bowled by Mohammed Shami of India during day one of the First Test match in the series between India and Australia at Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground on February 09, 2023 in Nagpur, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

David Warner is bowled by Mohammed Shami. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Todd gets his turn

It was refreshing to see Todd Murphy became Australia’s 465th men’s Test cricketer when the selectors made the surprising call to bring him into the side alongside veteran tweaker Nathan Lyon after Ashton Agar failed to fire at the SCG last month. 

Too often in the past couple of years, the selectors have erred on the side of being conservative with selections in all three formats. That has clearly gone out the window with the punt on Murphy and Head getting punted altogether.

And although he was out for a duck in his first innings in the big time, Murphy was the pick of the Australian bowlers to collect his first Test wicket with a return catch to dismiss KL Rahul in the penultimate over of the day.

He was accurate and tested the Indian batters in his seven overs, his only blemish a rare spinner’s no-ball in his first over.


Lyon presented his younger counterpart with his baggy green cap pre-game to raucous applause from the Australian camp in a huddle in the Nagpur outfield as they swamped the bespectacled debutant.

Murphy has come from the clouds to snare a spot in the side for the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series after taking 14 wickets at 17.71 in the Sheffield Shield this summer, as well as an eye-catching 3-27 for the Prime Minister’s XI in the first innings against the West Indies.

NAGPUR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 09: Todd Murphy of Australia is seen with his family after he was capped to play his first test match for Australia. during day one of the First Test match in the series between India and Australia at Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground on February 09, 2023 in Nagpur, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Todd Murphy with his family and friends after he was capped to play his first Test in Nagpur. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

The last time Australia took a gamble this big on an off-spinner with such limited experience was when they gambled on another little-known offie when Lyon was handed his Test debut in Sri Lanka 12 years ago when he had just five matches on his resume. And that turned out alright.

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Even if Murphy struggles to make an impact overall in this Test, the selectors have made the right call – he is clearly the heir apparent to Lyon and Agar was far too erratic in Sydney to warrant another chance.

Unless he can get back to playing more Shield cricket with WA, it’s hard to see Agar getting another crack at Test cricket beyond this series.


Murphy has just seven first-class matches under his belt and is considered a different style of spinner to Lyon, even though they’e both offies – Australia haven’t fielded two off-spinners among their frontline bowlers since Gavin Robertson and Colin Miller teamed up for a Test on the 1998 Pakistan tour.

His elevation to the side is also reminiscent of Jason Krejza in 2008, who made his debut at the same venue, taking 12 wickets in a memorable maiden match.

Murphy’s father, Jamie, who played first grade alongside Shane Warne at St Kilda in the 1990s, and other family and friends have flown to India to watch his debut. 

NAGPUR, INDIA - FEBRUARY 07: Todd Murphy of Australia bowls during a training session at Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground on February 07, 2023 in Nagpur, India. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Todd Murphy bowls during a net session in Nagpur. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Scott Boland was chosen to share the new ball with Cummins ahead of Lance Morris with Josh Hazlewood (Achilles) and Mitchell Starc (finger) unavailable.

India made a couple of selection surprises with T20 power hitter Suryakumar Yadav and KS Bharat named to make their debut.

Former coach Ravi Shastri presented them with their caps – Yadav is expected to slot in at five in the middle order while Bharat has got the nod ahead of Ishan Kishan to replace Risabh Pant as wicketkeeper.


Moody cops backlash for wanting toss thrown out

With all the hullabaloo about the Nagpur groundstaff doctoring the pitch for India’s spinners, former Australian star Tom Moody believes it’s time to get rid of the coin toss. 

Moody floated the idea on Twitter that there is a “simple solution with away test matches and pitch doctoring (if that’s a concern), take the toss away and visitors have the choice to bat or bowl”. 

English county cricket introduced a system for four years where the coin toss was optional – the visiting team could choose to bowl first if they thought the pitch had been prepared too bowler-friendly, although if the captain wanted to bat first, they would still have to win a coin toss.

The ECB abandoned the idea three years ago when it didn’t have much of an impact on pitch preparations. 

Moody’s idea is a step further – giving the away skipper the option to bat first. 


And with the lopsided ratio of home nations winning Tests worldwide, his idea definitely has merit.

However he copped many responses from India supporters who accused him and the Australians of hypocrisy. 

Former Indian spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan pointedly asked Moody “Are greeeen tops doctored?????” in reference to the Gabba wicket which produced a two-day Test win over South Africa in December with a flurry of wickets as the seamers on both sides had a field day.