By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A painful ankle injury to paceman Peter Siddle and the impressive pace of all-rounder Mitchell Marsh has boosted Australia’s chances of playing two specialist spinners on home soil for the first time in a decade.
Having defeated West Indies in Melbourne to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, Australia host the third and final test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, the nation’s only wicket that could be called ‘spin-friendly’.
The SCG hosted Australia’s last two-pronged spin assault on a home wicket, when legspinners Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill teamed up in a 2006 defeat of South Africa.
Offspinner Nathan Lyon has been Australia’s first-choice slow bowler for some time but has almost never had company.
He teamed up with debutant Steven O’Keefe for a test match in Dubai against Pakistan last year but both were flayed by the opposing batsmen in defeat and the experiment was canned.
O’Keefe has not played a test since but mindful of the turning pitches that await on a tour to Sri Lanka next year, Australia’s selectors are tempted to hand the 31-year-old journeyman a second cap.
“He’s bowling really well. The selectors have watched him through state cricket,” Australia coach Darren Lehmann told reporters on Wednesday.
“He’d probably bat at eight (in the order), probably bat above Patto (paceman James Pattinson) if they both play.
“He can certainly bat and he’s a chirpy little feisty bloke in the field. Looking forward to him contributing if he gets his chance.”
Siddle had a reduced workload on Tuesday as Australia’s bowlers closed out a 177-run victory on day four at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and came off for treatment on his foot.
He will be re-assessed in the lead-up to the Sydney test which starts on Sunday.
All-rounder Mitchell Marsh stepped up to bowl more overs in Siddle’s absence and took 4-69, impressing with his pace and energy.
Marsh, who tipped the radar over 140 km per hour on some of his deliveries on Tuesday, could also shape up as a bonus third seamer should Australia go for two spinners, Lehmann said.
“Yeah, that certainly helps the scenario, the way he bowled,” he said.
“I thought he was fantastic yesterday. It allows us to really still play three genuine quicks and allows us to play two spinners. That’s a real option for us.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)