Australia has made a massive selection gamble for the opening Test, axing Travis Head despite a career-best summer from the left-hander.
Head was a stunning omission when Australian captain Pat Cummins revealed his team at the toss, with Peter Handscomb recalled in his favour.
The 29-year-old pounded 525 runs at an average of 87.50 against the West Indies and South Africa over the Australian summer, but has struggled mightily in the subcontinent, averaging just 21.30 seven Tests.
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Australian great Matthew Hayden was among those stunned by Head’s omission, with the legendary opener admitting he was left “speechless” at the toss.
“I can’t believe it. For me, he was the player of the summer,” Hayden said on Fox Cricket’s coverage.
“Totally different conditions to Brisbane I know, but his 90 there was so good. He made it look flat even though it wasn’t, it was a raging green-top.”
Handscomb has played five Tests in India and has averaged 25.25 in his previous outings in the country.
The 31-year-old hadn’t played a Test since January 2019 before being recalled for the series opener in Nagpur.
Hayden was far from the only former Australian Test legend to be stunned by the call, with ex-captain Steve Waugh equally bemused.
”Hard to believe we can drop the No.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!” Waugh wrote on Instagram.
Former Australian keeper Brad Haddin suggested Handscomb’s superior record against spin may have gotten him the nod over Head, who is more prolific against pacemen.
“Peter Handscomb is know as being a really good player of spin bowling, he has played well here in the past,” Brad Haddin said on Fox Cricket’s coverage.
“Travis Head’s record in the subcontinent has been poor.
“It won’t be the last time we see him in the subcontinent, I think he just needs a little bit more time to get used to his game in these conditions.”
Australia was pegged back on the first session after winning the toss and electing to bat first, losing both Usman Khawaja and David Warner in the opening two overs.
Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne briefly embarked on a rebuild mission, but Head’s absence was made even more glaring when Ravindra Jadeja sparked a middle-order collapse in the second session.
Jadeja removed Labuschagne and the left-hander batting in Head’s customary No.5 spot in consecutive deliveries, before removing Smith a few overs later to have Australia in strife.
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