Teams visiting India for Test series generally tend to load up on spinners and try to cover all bases. Australia in 2017 are no different. They have selected four 'frontline' spinners in the 16-men squad, including two left-arm spinners (Ashton Agar and Steven O'Keefe), one off-spinner (Nathan Lyon) and a leg-spinner in Mitchell Swepson. However, the quality of the spinner matters a great deal. Just ask the spinners that England trotted out in the five-Test series in 2016.
Swepson made his First-Class debut in October 2015 for Cricket Australia XI hosting the visiting New Zealanders in a match that was abandoned due to pitch concerns. Considered to be a leggie that “gives the ball a good rip” by Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns — to whose former club Sandgate-Redcliffe Swepson belongs, he picked up 17 wickets in Shield cricket for his home state Queensland in the 2015-16 season.
He was given an opportunity to play in 'unofficial' Tests against India A and South Africa A, and collected 14 wickets at under 20, in 2016. In the 2016-17 shield season, he had diminishing returns with just 10 wickets at a ballooning average of 43. In all, he has taken 41 wickets in 14 FC matches at an average just under 33 runs per wicket.
However, he caught the eyes of many during the 2016-17 Big Bash League (BBL) as he turned up for the Brisbane Heat franchise, his second season of domestic T20. In nine BBL games this past season, he took 12 wickets while going at an economy of 7.5 runs per over. It was after one of those games, and before Australia played Pakistan in the Sydney Test in January, leg-spinning legend and serial plumper-upper of spinners Shane Warne chimed in that Swepson ought to be in the side for the Test as the second spinner.
Now Australia have won the series against Pakistan. I would love to see young Swepson in the playing 11 as the 2nd spinner at the SCG #BBL06
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) December 30, 2016
Though he wasn't picked for Sydney - Ashton Agar was instead, Swepson now finds himself on the trip to India. Any spinner that catches Warne's eyes and a public backing is bound to find a spot in the national side. It has allowed Swepson to jump the queue ahead of more experienced Adam Zampa and Cameron Boyce who were thought of, not too long ago, as the next cab off the Aussie leg-spin rank. The FC records of the three leggies are provided in the table below and the numbers are clearly in favor of Swepson, although Boyce has taken three five-wicket hauls in his FC career, three more than Swepson. Data from ESPNcricinfo Even though Swepson is less experienced than the other two, lack of experience cannot and should not hold back a promising prospect. Warne covered that aspect as well.
I wasn't ready at the time the selectors threw me into the playing 11 V India, but the expireience helped me for the rest of my career ! — Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) December 30, 2016
It is true that Warne came across as too raw in his debut Test against India at Sydney in 1992, when Ravi Shastri and Sachin Tendulkar carted him around, and he had match figures of 1/153. But then, he would go on to become the second-highest wicket-taker of all time and the greatest leg-spinner ever. From that point of view, it is not an unreasonable punt from the selectors to include Swepson in the squad.
However, it's a different question whether he could leapfrog O'Keefe to be included as the second spinner in any of the Tests. Hohns said that Swepson is a “wicket-taking leg-spinner” (which self-respecting leg spinner isn't?) and feels that he “could play a part” in India if given the opportunity, and if not, he would be better for “the experience of being there”.
One big advantage Swepson holds over his fellow Aussie leg-spinners, and others like Adil Rashid and Amit Mishra is that he is quicker through the air. That should hold him in good stead against the Indian batsmen if given the chance. He seems to be a pretty good choice but his Test quality can only determined when he has the ball in hand and Kohli and Co are in the mood.