BGT | Inclined to pick Ashton Agar over Mitch Swepson to play O'Keefe role, opines Darren Lehmann

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Darren Lehmann has pipped Ashton Agar to make it to Australia's first XI in the Border Gavaskar Trophy next month, given the potency of finger spinners in sub-continental conditions. Lehmann went on to explain his choice with examples of Steve O'Keefe and Shane Warne from past series in India.

Australia are all set to take on India in a much-anticipated Test series as part of the Border Gavaskar Trophy, with the first game scheduled to begin on February 9 in Dharamsala. The four-match affair would not only determine which of the two sides ends up on top of the ICC rankings but also has spots in the World Test Championship Final at stake. The Kangaroos have already announced an 18-member squad for the tour, including a commendable four frontline spinners. While Nathan Lyon is a lock-in for the first XI with 18-year-old Todd Murphy supposed to serve as his understudy on the tour, the spot for the second spinner in the lineup is bound to be contested by left-arm spinner Ashton Agar and leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson.  

“Most of the time we only take 15 over there. They’ve got the extra spinners, there’s plenty of options, there’s no tour game, so they’ll work out the best option to win over there I’m sure," former Australian head coach Darren Lehmann was quoted telling SENQ Breakfast by The Indian Express.

The retired all rounder believes Agar should get the nod, having recently made his Test comeback after a six-year absence. Even though Agar has just nine wickets in five Tests, seven of those came in two Tests in Bangladesh in 2013. Lehmann highlighted how finger-spinners tend to perform better in Asia, as was evident in their last win in the country in 2016/17. Even though the side eventually lost the series 2-1, the Men from Down Under registered a comprehensive 333-run in the first Test, propelled by Steve O'Keefe's six-wicket haul in both innings to fold out India for 105 and 107 respectively.

“Having been there, I’m probably more inclined to play finger spinners,” Lehmann explained.

"It just gets through the air quicker and some spin and some don’t. The leg spinners sometimes spin it too much, if that makes sense… (for finger spinners) some skid on and you get beaten on the inside and you get an LBW. That’s probably why they’re looking at a finger spinner. We certainly did that four years ago and Steve O’Keefe bowled India out basically on his own in one of the last Test matches to win there, that’s why I’d be looking at someone like an Agar, bat a little bit, bowl as that second spinner,” he added.

Lehmann was a part of the Australian lineup that last won a series in India, having triumphed 2-1 in 2004/05. The legendary Shane Warne was instrumental in the team's success, scalping 14 wickets in five innings including a six-wicket haul.  

“Having said that, Shane Warne, even though his record wasn’t as good over there, last time (we won) he was the leg spinner (alongside) three quicks. It’s not all that bad playing a leg spinner there," Lehmann admitted.

“I can’t believe there was talk of him (Swepson) not going, talk about balance of the side, if you get to pick 18 players, you want a pretty balanced squad. It does look like a pretty good squad. If it suits to play the leg spinner as the second spinner, then good on him,” he concluded on the matter.

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