By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia look set to field two specialist spinners at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the first time in a decade when they host West Indies in a dead rubber New Year’s test starting this weekend.
An inexperienced and demoralised West Indies touring party succumbed by an innings and 212 runs in Hobart and 177 runs in Melbourne to hand their hosts an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.
That position, and the likelihood of a turning wicket at the SCG, have encouraged Australia to test out the twin spin option of Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe ahead of their tour of Sri Lanka later this year.
That the hosts can afford to put out an experimental side in one of the more venerable fixtures in the Australian sporting calendar is not to say there will be nothing at stake when the match gets underway on Sunday (1030 GMT).
For West Indies there is pride and a chance to show more of the fighting spirit that stalled Australia’s victory match in the Boxing Day test in Melbourne last weekend.
A 3-0 sweep, meanwhile, would send Australia above India to second in the test rankings and they would return to the summit if England can maintain a winning start and beat South Africa in their ongoing four-match series.
Off-spinner Lyon is one of the first names on the Australian team sheet these days and he looks like being joined by left-arm finger spinner O’Keefe in the Australian line-up.
That was made all the more likely when seamer Peter Siddle failed to train on Friday because of an ankle injury, leaving his place in the team in jeopardy.
O’Keefe’s inclusion for his second test — his first on home soil — would make it the first time Australia have played twin spinners at the SCG since Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill took on South Africa at the ground in 2006.
Josh Hazlewood is likely to back up for a sixth straight test alongside James Pattinson in the pace attack with all-rounder Mitchell Marsh offering support with his quickening medium pace deliveries after taking 4-61 in Melbourne.
While Darren Bravo, Denesh Ramdin and skipper Jason Holder showed some resistance with the bat in Melbourne, the paucity of the West Indies bowling is starkly illustrated by the fact that they have taken just 10 wickets over the first two tests.
Given how little pressure their pace attack have managed to exert on Australia so far in the series, West Indies might consider their own twin spin attack by bringing in leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo alongside left-arm orthodox Jomel Warrican.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)