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Travis Head recalled for his bowling, Matt Kuhnemann leapfrogs struggling Ashton Agar

Australia’s selectors have backflipped on their decision to leave out Travis Head in Nagpur by selecting him in Delhi because of his bowling ability. Matthew Kuhnemann has also leap-frogged Ashton Agar to make his Test debut as Australia select three specialist spinners and one fast bowler for the first time since 2017 with Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc both ruled unfit.

Australia’s selector on tour Tony Dodemaide spoke to the media shortly before the toss in Delhi to explain the selectors’ decision-making. Having left Head out in Nagpur as a horses-for-courses selection due to his poor batting record on the subcontinent, and his struggles at the training camp in Bengaluru, Dodemaide explained that Head had been included in Delhi at the expense of Matt Renshaw because Australia felt they were missing a fifth bowling option in Nagpur.

“Renners is really stiff,” Dodemaide said. “There’s no slight on him. He’s very much a valued player in our team planning moving forward. He was quite stiff, particularly in the first innings [in Nagpur]. So he hasn’t been dropped for those performances.

“The key thing where we see the difference this time around is that Heady does offer quite a valuable option as a fifth bowler and that’s where we felt we were stretched in parts of the game in Nagpur and that fifth bowling option is something that we value, albeit another spinner. But we expect spin to dominate in any case.”

Ashton Agar struggling for form

Kuhnemann’s Test debut has come in extraordinary circumstances. Last week he was playing his first first-class match since October for Queensland at the MCG in Melbourne, having been biding his time as the second Queensland spinner behind Mitchell Swepson in their Sheffield Shield side.

Kuhnemann was not selected in the initial India tour squad but flew into Delhi on Sunday as Swepson went home for the birth of his first child. Agar was picked as Australia’s second spinner in the XI in Sydney in the last home Test before the India tour and as the preferred left-arm orthodox spinner in the touring party.

But Agar’s performance in Sydney against South Africa, and at the training camp in Bengaluru, meant that he was not a viable option to be picked in the first or second Test.

“His red-ball game is not quite where he wants it to be,” Dodemaide said. “Matt Kuhnemann has come over and impressed. He got a chance in Sri Lanka, albeit in limited-overs form, he’s played well in domestic cricket this season and he’s impressed us in the nets. We just feel his style at the moment is more suited to these conditions.”

Kuhnemann made a similar shock ODI debut last year in Sri Lanka when Adam Zampa missed the tour on paternity leave.

Australia have opted to not pick a second pace bowler for the first time since Chittagong in 2017 when Pat Cummins was the lone quick alongside Agar, Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe, although on that occasion that did have Hilton Cartwright’s medium pace.

Boland was arguably Australia’s second-best bowler in Nagpur behind Todd Murphy but only bowled 17 overs for the Test. Australia’s selectors believe the conditions in Delhi make a second quick surplus to requirements.

“It’s a bit unusual going the three spin and one quick,” Dodemaide said. “We feel the pitch here, the conditions, we feel that spin will dominate the game once again and from what we understand this pitch has been used three times already this year and there’s already substantial cracking in the areas where most of the game is going to be played. That’s the reason for going for the three spinners. The fifth bowler is important too.

“We don’t have the seam bowling option of Cam on the table quite yet. We’re very confident and hope he’s continuing to progress and we expect him to be available for the third Test in Indore. That’s the context around selection for this one.”

Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc hopeful for Indore

Dodemaide defended the selectors’ decision to bring three players on tour who are not fit enough to be selected in the first two Tests. Josh Hazlewood is still battling an Achilles issue while Green and Starc were pushing to be fit for the second Test but neither were quite right with their respective finger injuries despite training fully on Wednesday.

“We brought them over in the expectation they’d be available,” Dodemaide said. “Starcy and Greeny didn’t quite come up for this one. We fully expect them to be online for the third one.

“Certainly if [Starc] was 100% we would have had a serious conversation about the bowling structure, about two [quicks] and two [spinners] as opposed to one [quick] and three [spinners]. Certainly, it’s great balance if you’ve got that seam bowling without shortening the batting with Greeny being available. That’s not the case and we deal with what you’ve got.

“Cam’s been going through his return to play stuff. He hasn’t really completed all of what he was intended to do. He still hasn’t faced quick bowlers. He hasn’t done a lot of catching as well. He’s trained for quite some time. But there’s just enough reaction and discomfort there that it’s just not ready.”

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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