An SCG pitch not used since Shane Warne’s final Test 15 years ago could spin like a “traditional” Sydney pitch, moving a baggy green return for Ashton Agar up the list of probabilities for the third and final clash with South Africa.
Australian captain Pat Cummins said he was “set” on the final team, but wouldn’t confirm it on Tuesday morning, with Agar potentially coming into the side ahead of Lance Morris on a deck not used since the farewell Test for Warne and fellow greats Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer in 2006/07.
Australia’s final team may not be known until the toss on Wednesday, with plenty of intrigue as to who will partner Cummins and Nathan Lyon in the bowling attack.
With Mitch Starc out injured, Morris has been touted as a potential debutant, given his raw speed, although Cummins indicated the West Australian speedster may miss out.
“We’ll see; I don’t think it’s the WACA-type pace-bowling friendly wicket out there,” he said.
While nothing is set in stone, it does look like Agar will play his first Test since 2017 in place of the injured Cam Green, with wicketkeeper Alex Carey set to move up a spot after his breakthrough century in Melbourne.
“We’re set on our 11, we’re just going to wait for the toss,” Cummins said.
“I think it’s a bit different to most Aussie wickets, especially with a couple of injuries. With Green in particular, we have to dice it up a bit differently. But we’re pretty confident in our 11.
“Yesterday we had a pretty good look at the wicket. We just wanted to have another look today 24 hours on. It hasn’t really changed; they have taken a bit more grass off it. It looks a bit more like an SCG wicket of 15-20 years ago.”
Those comments were echoed by SCG curator Adam Lewis, who said the surface would suit the spinners, although he stopped short of telling selectors they should go with two tweakers.
“We’re hoping for a traditional SCG pitch,” Lewis said.
“It’s not quite what we’ve seen in the past few years. A few of the players have told me it looks like a wicket from about 10 years ago, which gave me a bit of confidence.
“It’s thin on grass, a bit patchy and probably not the best-looking pitch that we’ve seen, but we’re looking forward to it and we’ve done the best we can. Hopefully it’s going to be a really good Test.
“The good thing is that I can go grass, but I’m not a selector.”
There will be a romantic feel to the SCG deck, with Lewis and his team opting for pitch three, which hasn’t been used for a Test match since three Australian greats all retired together during the 2006/07 Ashes.
Warne took just two wickets in that Test, a win over England, with the fast bowlers doing the damage.
“When we were doing our investigation, we worked out that Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer had their final Test on pitch three, so in our planning we had that in the back of our mind,” Lewis said.
“We tried bringing grass in on pitch five as best we could, but with the amount of play we’ve had through the whole season, it just couldn’t get there in time.
“Knowing that Shane Warne and the guys played their last Test on three, it just felt right, so we put our energy into three.”
The selections in Sydney will have one eye on next month’s blockbuster tour of India, which could be a preview of the World Test Championship later in the year.
“It’s a huge connection to India,” Cummins said.
“Fast bowling and reverse swing is going to come into it, which we can expect in India.
“We will probably get more spin overs here; our batters are probably going to face more spin here as well. So it’s a really good connection. Even captaining here might be a little different to the last few Test matches, so it’s a really good prep.”