Ricky Ponting has never been shy of telling it like he sees it, with the former Test skipper insisting Australia's bombshell axing of Travis Head did not come as a surprise, before the first Test against India in Nagpur. Head's omission from the Aussie XI was one of the biggest talking points on the first day of an opening Test dominated by the home side.
Indian spinners Ravi Jadeja (5-42) and Ravi Ashwin (3-42) tore through Australia's batting lineup, leaving the tourists all out for 177 in their first innings. India captain Rohit Sharma (56 no) and fellow opener KL Rahul (20) then made a mockery of concerns around the state of the pitch, by guiding the hosts to 1-76 at stumps.
The nature of the spin-friendly Nagpur pitch and reports around the treatment it had been given by local curators had dominated debate in the lead-up to day one. Reports that curators had deliberately left dry patches at certain spots on the pitch to make life difficult for Australia's left-hand heavy batting lineup, sparked uproar around the cricket world.
Aussie selectors had spoken about the possibility of bringing in a right-handed batter in Peter Handscomb to break up an Aussie top order dominated by lefties. Few thought Head - the man sitting at No.4 on the ICC's Test batting rankings - would be the player to make way.
Few that is, apart from Ponting, who claimed the writing was on the wall for the South Australian when Matt Renshaw was picked to replace allrounder Cameron Green - missing from the first Test after failing to overcome a broken finger in time - for the New Year's Test against South Africa at the SCG. Renshaw ultimately got the nod from selectors to keep his place alongside Hanscomb for the first Test against India.
“The more I thought about it, the fact that they played Matt Renshaw in Sydney to me meant they probably had other plans in mind for him,” Ponting told the ICC Review podcast. “Obviously, the most immediate plan was for him to bat in the middle order for Australia in this Test series against India.
“When you look at that, if they’re going to keep him in, they couldn’t really afford to keep Travis Head in either because then they would have five left-handers in their top seven.”
Ponting - considered one of the most astute cricket brains in Australia - said he agreed the inclusion of the right-handed Handscomb was crucial to the balance of the Aussie side and that he he "wasn’t that surprised" Head was left out. The former skipper said Head's poor record in the subcontinent - where he averaged just 15.16 across five Tests in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2022 - also played a big role in the selection bombshell.
“The other side of it is that Travis’ record outside of Australia and on the subcontinent is nowhere near as good,” Ponting added. “So when you put all those pieces together, I actually wasn’t that surprised … there’s been a bit of an uproar here in Australia about ‘how could the selectors do this’?
“I know (Renshaw) was out first ball today, I’ll forgive him for that – the other thing to keep in mind is they’ve been over here for what is just about a week now, so they’ve done a lot of training. The coaches and selectors would’ve kept an eye on training and watched who was coping with the spin better than others.”
Cricket world erupts over Travis Head axing
Another former Aussie captain Steve Waugh was among those baffled by Head's axing for the first Test, which was also labelled a 'f**king disgrace' by Head's South Australia teammate, Chad Sayyers.
Head has averaged 87.50 in his previous five Tests for Australia and has been a rock in the middle order. That point was not lost on Test great and former middle order rock Steve Waugh, who admitted like many Aussie cricket fans, that he was baffled by the decision to drop Head.
"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 geniuses," Waugh wrote. Fellow Aussie great Damien Martyn added to the post and wrote: "It's a big call and now we wait".
Head's fellow South Australian Sayyers couldn't hide his disgust with the Australian selectors. Cricket fans around the world also questioned how on earth Head wasn't granted an opportunity to prove himself in the first Test.
Head being dropped is a fu**ing disgrace.
— Chadd Sayers (@Chaddsayers27) February 9, 2023
Travis Head, the world's No.4 ranked batter, was left out for two guys who had played one Test between them in four years. Head's record in Asia is miserable but it's still an all-time brutal call #INDvsAUS
— Oliver Caffrey (@ollycaffrey) February 9, 2023
The Travis Head decision is one of the most perplexing decisions I’ve seen in a long long time #INDvsAUS
— Paul Seedsman (@paulseed40) February 9, 2023
While Handscomb scored 31 and performed admirably in a team that was collapsing around him, Renshaw was out for a golden duck. Australia will be looking to make some inroads into the Indian line-up on day two with debutant Todd Murphy the only bowler to pick up a wicket for the visitors.
Handscomb put up a fight on Thursday as Australia collapsed, bundled out for 177 after winning the toss at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. This was exacerbated when India cruised to 1-77 by stumps thanks to an unbeaten 56 from captain Rohit Sharma. The India skipper will look to ram home his side's advantage on day two.
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