Australia have dropped another selection bombshell for the second Test in Delhi, with Queensland left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann parachuted into the XI.
Missing out on selection for the tour entirely, Kuhnemann was brought in as cover for Mitchell Swepson, who left India for the birth of his first child, and immediately shot into selection contention after Australia’s humiliating defeat in the first Test saw the tourists searching for answers.
Kuhnemann, 26, has had a rapid rise, having only played his first Sheffield Shield game for Queensland at the beginning of 2021 after he was picked up his rookie contract in 2016/17.
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He leapfrogged incumbent left-arm option Ashton Agar, who played the final Test of the Australian home summer in Sydney against South Africa with a view to him playing as Australia’s primary left-arm option over in India.
Left-arm spin is considered a major weapon on quickly-deteriorating Indian wickets, where the rough created by right-arm bowlers can be taken advantage of against left-handed batters.
Selector Tony Dodemaide told media that Agar’s “red-ball game is not quite where he wants it to be”, while Kuhnemann had “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,” said Dodemaide.
“We just feel his style at the moment is more suited to these conditions.”
Kuhnemann’s selection raises a variety of questions about the consistency of Australian selection policy, given that Agar was the clear preference for the tourists heading into the Indian summer.
Captain Pat Cummins told press in Sydney after the third Test against South Africa that he was happy with Agar’s wicketless performance in Sydney, but despite the pre-tour consensus being that a left-arm spinner was a necessity and Agar was the most experienced suitable candidate in the country, doubts remain as to his red-ball ability.
Agar has played five Sheffield Shield matches in the last three seasons, and has taken 15 wickets at an average of 73.50.
Kuhnemann’s selection now leaves Agar’s career hanging perilously in the balance, having only had periodic opportunities at Test level and approaching the wrong side of 30.
Agar is not the only spinner leapfrogged by Kuhnemann’s shock selection, with white-ball specialist Adam Zampa also spurned.
Zampa, who was recently also snubbed by Cricket Australia for the 2022 Men’s ODI Player of the Year Award despite being short-listed for the ICC male ODI player of the year, also missed out on India selection.
The legspinner was very public about his feelings, saying he felt “very flat” about it, having been told he was “close” to selection.
It is understood Zampa’s domestic teammates feel he is accurate enough to take advantage of Indian conditions, and that his style of bowling would suit Australia’s needs in the subcontinent.
With Mitchell Swepson not warranting selection in the first Test despite specific rough being created by the Nagpur curators outside the right-hander’s leg stump, it begs the question as to why Zampa wasn’t in closer consideration for the Test squad.
Kuhnemann joined a battery of young spinners that were sent over to Sri Lanka and India on development camps and A tours last year with a view to replacing the ageing Nathan Lyon, alongside Nagpur debutant Todd Murphy.
Chairman of selectors George Bailey said at the time that the tours were “as much about a scarcity of skillsets” as anything else.
“If you look around Australia, we don’t have a heap of well-established spinners,” Bailey said.
“(Murphy) is certainly behind Nathan Lyon as far as offspinners go.
“He looks really promising.
“So it’s exciting to get him across there along with Tanveer Sangha who has had some opportunities in the past and Matthew Kuhnemann as well.
“It’s a little bit about exposing those rarer skillsets as far as but really important skillsets for these types of tours.”