From Settled to Unsettled: Who Could Replace Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc for Australia in the Ranchi Test?

February 25th wasn’t long back and on that evening, Australia were on top of the world, following their 333-run win in the first Test against India. They had become the first visiting team since England in 2012, to beat India in India in a Test match and the Aussies had enjoyed the perfect Test match: the batsmen scored 545 runs in the two innings combined, the bowlers only needed 74 overs to take 20 Indian wickets and Australia had trounced India well inside three days. What more, their playing XI looked settled and well balanced.

Mind you, Australia had themselves not won in India since October 2004 and nobody had given Steve Smith’s men a chance of even troubling the No. 1-ranked India led by Virat Kohli. Therefore, by winning the first Test and by such a massive margin too, Australians had stuffed every one of their naysayers!

Suddenly, India, who had not tasted a Test defeat for 560 days and also not known what falling behind in a Test series felt like, looked out of place and the coveted momentum was all Australia’s.

The course of Test matches and Test series, consequently, can change quickly, though. And, as we approach the pivotal 3rd India vs Australia Test, which will be played at the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi, India have the wood on Australia, even if the four-Test series is level 1-1.

And I say India have the wood on Australia for four reasons: the hosts won the second Test having been on the back-foot for much of the four days; the Indian batsmen played Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe a lot better in Bangalore, particularly in the second innings, making a 200+ total (274 all-out) for the first time in the Test series; Australia have lost a pivotal player in their arsenal and from this series viewpoint too, considering the vital contributions Mitchell Starc had made with the bat at No. 8 in Pune and Bangalore, and his possessing the inherent ability to deliver wickets at any given point; Smith and Australia have had their integrity questioned and they might be a little low on morale, following the DRS controversy in Bangalore.

Australia team news ahead of the third Test in Ranchi

The visiting Australians have now lost two players in the last two days, with Mitchell Marsh and Starc returning home with different injuries.

M Marsh has played with a shoulder injury for a few months now and aggravated this injury to such an extent that he is unable to play any further part in the ongoing Test series against India.

Starc has suffered a stress fracture in his right foot and, like M Marsh, the New South Wales pacer has had to return home to start rehabilitation.

Marcus Stoinis and Pat Cummins have been named as replacements for the younger Marsh and Starc, respectively.

Australia’s Probable Playing XI for 3rd Test vs India

The loss of Starc, in particular, is huge because he has forged a wonderful bowling partnership with Josh Hazlewood and together they are one of the devastating bowling pairs in world cricket today.

Hazlewood and Starc complement each other well: Hazlewood keeps a lid on run scoring and Starc—whilst having the propensity to be a tad expensive, like he was in the second innings in Bangalore, going for 74 runs in 16 overs (4.62 runs per over)—is a natural wicket-taker. And his wicket-taking ability came to the fore during the first session on day four in Bengaluru, where he struck twice in two balls to provide Australia the vital breakthroughs of Ajinkya Rahane and Karun Nair.

Starc’s premature return to Australia means the Australian squad is now bereft of a left-arm pacer who carries a threat from over and round the wicket against an Indian batting line-up which has nine or ten right-handers, and also creates footmarks for Nathan Lyon to target from the other end.

Left-arm pacers, particularly those like Starc, Trent Boult and Wahab Riaz, among others, will always pose a threat to right-hand batsmen if they can swing the ball into the right-hander from over the wicket; and, from round the wicket, a left-arm pacer can angle the ball into the right-hander and get it to straighten after pitching, bringing the slip cordon into play.

I expect Cummins to come straight in for the injured Starc, quite strangely ahead of Jackson Bird, who was picked in the original squad for Australia’s Qantas tour of India 2017.

Because Cummins is a lot zippier in the air and off the surface, and naturally is better suited to the dry Indian conditions, I expect him to get the nod ahead of Bird in Australia’s playing XI for the third Test in Ranchi. Cummins, though, has played just one Test till date, against South Africa at the Wanderers in Johannesburg way back in 2011. He won the man of the match award on his Test debut.

Bird bowls at a gentle pace between 125 and 135 kilometres per hour and as a result might not carry a threat on the slow and low Indian pitches and in conditions that are unlikely to offer him swing and seam.

As for M Marsh and the No. 6 slot in the Australian line-up, Marcus Stoinis, Glenn Maxwell, who has been named as Kings XI Punjab’s skipper ahead of IPL 2017,  and Ashton Agar face a three-way battle for a place in the Australian playing XI.

Stoinis, Maxwell and even the young Agar, who made 98 on his Ashes and Test debut, are similar players: they are all-rounders. Maxwell edges Stoinis and Agar with his experience of having played Tests in India. Yes, the Victorian last played a Test for the national side in 2014, has a batting average of just over 13 and can let the team down with his choice of shots. Therefore, picking Maxwell will be a gamble as far as the Aussies are concerned, but in my opinion, it is one worth taking.

Maxwell can be a devastating batsman once he gets going, plays the sweep (the conventional and the reverse, in addition to playing the switch-hit) to good effect and of course, can roll his arm over for a few overs of off-spin.

Look, none of Australia’s replacements for the Ranchi Test, will have played a Test in recent times. In fact, they will not have played a Test for three, four, five, or six years, and in Mitchell Swepson and Stoinis’s cases, they have yet to bag the Baggy Green.

But Maxwell, with his experience of not only having played in India but also having gotten acclimatised to the Indian conditions over the last 20-odd days, will be an ideal choice for Australia in what is a pivotal Test against India at what is set to become the 26th Indian Test venue.

Australia’s playing XI for the 3rd Test in Ranchi: Steve Smith (C), David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon, and Josh Hazlewood

Actual Australian playing XI (same as what Cricfooty had predicted!): Steve Smith (C), David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Glenn Maxwell, Matthew Wade, Pat Cummins, Steve O’Keefe, Nathan Lyon, and Josh Hazlewood

Read: What could be India’s XI for the Ranchi Test?

Do you agree with Cricfooty’s suggestions? If not, who would you replace M Marsh and Starc with?

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