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‘You have to play a spinner’ – Moeen answers Murphy question for Australia

What England say will likely be low down the information Australia take on board when deciding their XI for Old Trafford, but Moeen Ali believes they have to play Todd Murphy as a frontline spinner.

Murphy sent down only 9.3 overs at Headingley and just two one-over spells during England’s successful chase after having come in for the injured Nathan Lyon, and one option to squeeze in the fit-again Cameron Green would have been to go without a specialist spinner.

However, Australia have not picked an all-pace attack since the 2011-12 Test against India in Perth and the expectation is that spin will have a role to play in the fourth Test even though the forecast for the weekend is uncertain. Pat Cummins, Andrew McDonald and on-tour selector Tony Dodemaide all spent time inspecting the surface as the rain stayed away during the afternoon after interrupting England’s training.

Spin bowling in Ashes cricket at Old Trafford has a long legacy, not least Shane Warne’s ball of the century in 1993. Warne enjoyed the bounce and turn on offer at the ground, taking 21 wickets in three matches, although Lyon found less success in his two outings in 2013 and 2019 where he claimed three wickets.

Although the ground has a reputation for helping spin, in the last ten years it has the second-highest average for spinners of men’s Test grounds in England. However, Moeen, who has taken 16 wickets at 18.50 in three Tests at Old Trafford, argued that a frontline spinner is vital and that how Murphy is used by Cummins will be crucial part of the game.

“You have to play a spinner in a Test match no matter where it is, in my opinion, but Old Trafford especially,” Moeen said. “I think the way they used him [Murphy], it was a difficult one, I think the chase was a difficult one because we would have preferred facing a spinner. [They] were missing Nathan Lyon, who has been a massive part of the team and does an amazing job for them.

“Todd’s good, he looks really good, he’s got really good potential and I’m sure he’s going to bowl a lot more here. From a captain’s point of view, it’s not always easy to use somebody who’s pretty new into the side, especially a spinner, and I think that’s where captaincy really comes into it now.

“Because when you’ve got a good spinner like Swanny [Graeme Swann] used to be or Nathan Lyon, it’s quite easy, just give them the ball. But now I think for Pat it will be a test of real captaincy and let’s see how good you are now, but he’s done a good job so far.”

Josh Hazlewood, who took six wickets in Australia’s 2019 victory at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes, is set to replace Scott Boland, having sat out at Headingley, and he backed Murphy to have a much more substantial role this week.

“Todd’s had a great start to his career particularly in the subcontinent against the best players of spin the world, India,” he said. “I know we are going to miss Gazza [Lyon] from time to time when we are in the field but think Todd as his understudy has done a great job so far and expect the same again.”

Further clues to Australia’s make-up appeared to be on offer during their training session on Monday. David Warner, whose place looks secure, fielded at first slip and Mitchell Marsh in the gully, while Green was with the reserve players, although he did have a bowl on the square during the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Hazlewood is confident of being able to get through the final two Tests. Having been pulled from the World Test Championship final squad, Edgbaston and Lord’s – where he took eight wickets – were the first time he had played back-to-back first-class matches since 2020-21.

“We haven’t bowled a lot of overs in terms of what Test matches usually look like for us,” he said. “The way England play, it gets us in the field for a little less in terms of workload. I felt pretty good going into [Headingley]. It was probably the right call now I can sit back and look at the big picture. I was desperate to play, which is obvious. But now it makes sense.

“I was probably a little bit underdone for that World Test Championship and then got ready for the first game. I didn’t seem too rusty when I was out there in the middle. Once you get that big day of workload underneath you, you feel a lot better for the run. I felt better and better as I was going along. Hopefully after that little break, I’ll coming out firing again.”

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