After five frustrating years of being a net bowler and running out countless drinks as a non-playing touring member, Queensland leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson is poised to make his highly anticipated debut for Australia in the second Test against Pakistan, which starts on Saturday.
Leg-spin bowling great Shane Warne, who died last week aged 52 in Thailand, would have had a grin from ear to ear to learn Swepson is set to become the first specialist leg-spinner picked to play for Australia in a Test since Bryce McGain in 2009.
“It’s obviously tragic he won’t be around to see how my career goes,” Swepson told Australian reporters in Pakistan.
Australian captain Pat Cummins held off from sharing his XI ahead of the first Test in Rawalpindi, which ended in a tedious draw, but was happy to confirm on Friday that Swepson would partner Nathan Lyon in the side.
The unlucky one is Josh Hazlewood, who has been squeezed out, with Cummins hinting that Mitchell Starc’s ability to generate reverse swing earned him the last fast bowling spot.
Swepson, first picked in an Australian squad in 2017, will partner Lyon on a Karachi pitch expected to offer plenty of turn for the slow bowlers.
“I think it’s quite special that someone like Mitch Swepson is going to debut as a leg-spinner who grew up trying to replicate Warnie,” Cummins said.
“He’s pumped and, to be honest, we’re all pumped for Sweppo. He’s spent a lot of time running drinks the last couple of years. He’s absolutely ready.”
Swepson conceded the past few years hadn’t been easy and said he felt a baggy green might have been out of reach, with Lyon ahead in the pecking order.
“I’m not going to lie, it has been tough,” Swepson said. “COVID has probably been the hardest part because I have been away touring and in bubbles and hubs and not being able to actually play games of cricket. That’s been frustrating.
“In the past, you’d be able to be part of an Australian squad but fly back and play for your state or Big Bash team. That hasn’t really been able to happen for me over the last few seasons. I’m probably a bit shy on game time … but I’d never sacrifice being in this position.
“It’s been about trying to stay ready and try and bowl as well as I can in the nets and finding ways to improve. I’m certainly itching to get a game that’s for sure.”
Swepson is bowling a lot quicker through the air these days and should get plenty of purchase from the Karachi pitch on days four and five, when it is expected to break up. He will play a more defensive role with the ball by trying to concede as few runs as possible, as Lyon and the quicks attack from the other end.
“I think the wicket here looks a little bit drier and historically a bit friendlier for the spinners,” Cummins said. “We think a wrist-spinner of Sweppo’s quality gives us a balance and the best opportunity to take 20 wickets.”
Hazlewood’s omission presents greater responsibility for all-rounder and No.6 Cameron Green, who is effectively now playing as Australia’s third seam bowler.
“He could be a real asset,” said Cummins of Green.
Australia had their final training session on Friday ahead of a match at a venue where the visitors have never recorded a Test victory.
Likely Australian XI: Usman Khawaja, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Swepson.