Former Australian Test opener Ed Cowan has called on selectors to make urgent changes for the second Test against India, from bringing Travis Head into the batting order to flying spinner Matthew Kuhnemann over to Delhi.
The call came before the announcement that Kuhnemann, the Brisbane Heat and Queensland off-spinner, will be brought in to the squad to replace Mitch Swepson.
Swepson is going home for the birth of his first child, although he is expected to return ahead of the third Test in Ahmedabad on March 9.
Speaking to ABC Sport after Australia’s innings and 132-run defeat in the Border-Gavaskar series opener in Nagpur, Cowan — the co-host of ABC’s Grandstand Cricket podcast — said Australia had to change tactics if they wanted to compete.
Cowan described touring India as the “[Mount] Everest of international cricket”.
“To win over there is virtually impossible for so many reasons,” he said.
“But I think there was a sense with this particular Australian team that maybe there was a chance [of winning].
“But all that you could say has been squashed in the matter of two and a half days. It’s proven how far away [from the mark] we are in those conditions.”
Australia went into the first Test with Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green injured.
Starc has now arrived in Delhi as he pushes his case to be available for the second Test after breaking his finger in December.
All-rounder Green is also making good progress in his recovery from a broken finger, having two hour-long batting sessions and bowling at near capacity.
Selectors went with Pat Cummins and Scott Boland as the only pacemen in Nagpur, choosing Nathan Lyon and debutant Todd Murphy as the two spinners from the four in the squad.
Murphy responded with 7-124, the third-best figures by an Australian debutant in Test history.
“Obviously Cameron Green not being able to bowl throws the balance out, but there is a world when he can bowl that you would play just Cummins and Green and play with an extra spin bowler. And then the question of which spin bowler,” Cowan said.
“I think consistently we’ve seen over there the power of having a left-arm finger spinner … but I’m not sure that Ashton Agar is the one for the job.
[If] I was an Australian selector … I’d get QF13 over to Mumbai and I’d get Kuhnemann on a plane pretty quick. I think they need a left-arm finger spinner and sure, Agar has been picked on the tour but I’m not sure he’s the one.”
There was an outcry among fans and some pundits against the non-selection of Travis Head in the batting line-up, and although Cowan said there were reasons for the move, he believed the South Australian now needed to be in for the second Test and beyond.
“I can see why it happened … you can’t forget his struggles against spin, and in fact anywhere outside Australia,” he said.
“He’s been this incredible dominant force of Australian batting in Australian conditions, but he hasn’t really looked in any kind of form to play against the moving ball. But when you see the player [that replaced him], Matt Renshaw, struggle so badly, it makes you doubt the thought process.
“If Travis is to succeed over there, it feels like it’s almost towards the top of the order, so whether he bats at three or potentially even opens the batting you need him in the team, I think,” Cowan said.
He added that Head’s ability to bowl off-spin meant his selection would provide more flexibility.
Jadeja fine right, but ball-tampering talk ‘baseless’, says Cowan
There was controversy during the first Test, with off-spinner Ravindra Jadeja seen putting cream on his finger during Australia’s innings.
Jadeja was later found to have breached Article 2.20 of the ICC Code of Conduct relating to displaying conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game.
Jadeja pleaded guilty and was fined 25 per cent of his match fee and given one demerit point on his disciplinary record.
Cowan said the incident had reinforced the fact that nothing went unnoticed by TV cameras in Test cricket, but played down suggestions of ball-tampering.
“It didn’t look good, you could see the social media blow up almost immediately,” he said.
“My first reaction was it [the cream] wasn’t for the ball, it was for his spinning finger in hot, humid conditions, it’s a bit of the old Fryar’s Balsom that spinners used to put on their fingers back in the day but a more modern version to try and get a bit more grip.
“Which for the record is not part of the playing conditions, it’s not acceptable.
“So he’s been slapped with a code of conduct breach, which is appropriate, but the fire over the ball-tampering allegations, I think, are pretty baseless.”