BBL popularity a product of Scorchers’ success

It was pleasing to see the Perth Scorchers romp to victory over the Sixers in last night’s BBL decider and lift the trophy for the third time in the competitions six-year history. As a Brisbane fan, you might think that I’m still bitter from Friday nights epic which saw the Sydney based franchise overcome the Heat on their home patch, in front of a record-breaking domestic crowd and during a super-over that had more twists and turns than a Bollywood drama. But I’m not. Last night typified exactly why this competition continues to go from strength to strength in terms of popularity while other t20 competitions around the world are stagnating. Teams like the Perth Scorchers, on beautifully sunny summer evenings at intimate grounds like the WACA, are what defines the competition. The three trophies the Scorchers now have stowed away in their trophy cabinet have not only set a precedent for the other franchises, but layed the foundations for future rivalries, traditions and has given the BBL a sense of history and context.

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Perth Scorchers, three titles in four years.

Given that t20 domestic league fixtures give fans instant gratification, but rarely last long in the memory, shows what the success of the Perth Scorchers in the third, fourth and sixth edition have done to give the BBL a platform from which it can grow its brand, allowing the fan to buy into the history of a contrived competition whose aim will always be to raise revenue and subsidise the less popular formats, but has managed to grow an unprecedented backing simultaneously.

Next year the competition will grow, with CA confirming in the days just past that each team will play an extra game, increasing the competition from 32 matches to 40. This is a win for both the fan, who craves more of the history that this years’ BBL has created, and the administrators, who use it as a vehicle for increased revenue and participation rates. Only one of the aforementioned by-products doesn’t promise to trigger a self implosion.

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A packed Gabba crowd watch the opening BBL fixture.

The Australian Open TV ratings have been smashed by those of the Big Bash this year and this comes as no surprise when you consider how CA have marketed its love child. The casual tennis fan couldn’t recall who won the 1976 Australian Open because its history, while steeped in glory, stretches right back to just after the turn of the nineteenth century and not a lot has changed since. Not the coverage, the fan or the structure. The BBL, on the other hand, is hip, modern and resonates with the young and old because of team’s like the Perth Scorchers, that have given a previously listless competition relevance and delivered excitement around match results in an era where immediacy determines a viewers enjoyment levels.

For now, the Big Bash will be in the back of our minds as the end of the cricket season signals the rather swift transition into the marathon football season which begins to warm up next weekend. But as soon as the 2017/18 competition rolls around – with its new look and expanded geographical reach that keeps it from becoming repetitive and hence unattractive to the viewer who tunes into the cricket for one and a half months every year – all of the memories of season’s past return to give the competition context, prompting excitement in a way that only test matches against the big three have been able to previously.

Technological innovations are both a blessing and a curse for t20 cricket

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Brad Hodge on the mic during the IPL – Photo: Wisden India

Cricket has a lot to thank for the introduction of various technological innovations that have made the t2o format a more engaging and entertaining product. From helmet cams – that were brought in as a way of allowing the viewers to share the players view from the sanctity of their own living room – to on-field mic’s – which have allowed each and every person that tunes into the television coverage to get a sense of what is going through a captains mind, or what area of the ground a batsman is looking to target – cricket has gone through many different stages of development and now looks more technically savvy than ever. These have led to some of the most memorable moments in the brief history of t20 franchise cricket. But just last week, BBL host broadcasters Channel Ten crossed the fine line that divides entertainment and contest integrity, which must be upheld if the hit-and-giggle format is to maintain a semblance of legitimacy and be taken seriously.

The access to the players that Channel Ten and their viewers are granted during each contest is groundbreaking and undoubtedly one of the great pleasures of tuning into a franchise slog-fest. Listening to Kevin Pietersen as he describes his approach to the art of batting, albeit in the t20 format, is as close as you can get to a money can’t buy experience and gives both the casual observer, who mightn’t have the foggiest idea about the intricacies and strategies behind scoring runs, and the traditionalist a unique insight that helps one study their own approach against that of a well-trained professional who has succeeded at the top level. But the on-field mic, which was designed for t20 cricket and has become a mainstay ever since, is a gimmick that should remain exclusive to t2o cricket. There is no place for it in the longer formats where a players attention must go undivided and where, like stealing pages from the playbook, on-field comments could be noted down and used to strategise in the oppositions next team meeting. Fancy having David Warner or Alastair Cook micd up during the first over of an Ashes test match. The players piecing together their thoughts and emotions like a jigsaw puzzle in a pressure cooker environment would be a remarkably insightful experience, but its hard to argue that it would not have some kind of influence on their concentration levels or put their decision making off kilter. And that’s without even mentioning how tacky and modern it would make the coverage of a traditional rivalry, which thrives off the charm of its history, appear to the millions of viewers that expect the cricket be played in its purist form.

The events of last week, which saw a Channel Ten commentator deliver statistics to the micd up Brad Hodge at a crucial junction during the BBL clash between the Thunder and Strikers, caused a stir amongst fans and led to CA issuing a rather candid statement, but, quite strangely, failed to mention that they would be taking any action on the matter. It is also the perfect example of why player mics, helmet cams and anything that may influence or change the course of events should be limited to the shortest form only, ensuring that the integrity of a game is never compromised by stats, dossiers or otherwise.

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The scene of the crime

The comments made on air rolled heads at the time they were made, including that of Kevin Pietersen who has been vocal on the need to ensure that the entertainment factor of t20 cricket is upheld at all times as this is, by and large, what has allowed the format to reach out to a new audience. But even his umbrage towards the exchanging of information was plain to see when he repeated the phrase ‘very naughty’ and began to giggle uncontrollably as Brad Hodge signalled to Ben Laughlin that he would be bowling to his ‘bunny’ Shane Watson in the very next over.

Of course, players are given access to the kind of data that was disseminated to Brad Hodge by the Channel Ten commentary team before each game and its hard to imagine that he wasn’t already aware that Shane Watson had a weakness to the off-pace bowling of Ben Laughlin. Particularly when the statistical outlier is so obvious it would be staring the teams’ statistician in the face when he runs through the ‘Form Guide’ in the lead up to the game. But the fact that the information which passed hands changed the course of events, and was given during a crucial period in the game by a third party that has no business in relaying information to players, makes this an easy case to solve.

Setting up a network between well informed commentator and under pressure captain is not what we want to see the player mics used for. Just like we wouldn’t want our footballers to be tipped off about a goal kickers record from a particular angle prior to a conversion attempt by Ray Warren or Phil Gould. Not only would it detract from the legitimacy of the game, it could change who steps up to take the kick.

The role of the broadcaster is to educate the viewer if they manage to stumble upon a statistical anomaly in their dimly lit commentary box that looks more like the Big Brother confession chamber than a place of opinion filled by those who are most qualified to comment. They mustn’t abuse their access to the big name players or have that privilege taken away from them like a misbehaving spoilt child who has their favourite toy confiscated by their parents. Channel Ten have done wonders for the game of cricket in this country and their coverage and commentary is to be applauded. But their ignorance and inexperience in this case has shown that cricket’s broadcasters must tip toe with caution across the tightrope that divides technological innovations and the integrity of a tournament that is quickly gaining validity amongst fans, but continues to have some of the traditional rules and regulations bent because its primary goal is to entertain the masses and maximise revenue.

Homework-gate Confidential – #02 – the selection circus returns

If we were to judge the Australian selectors on the success rate of their last five years, what grade would they receive? Over this period, the Ashes have been lost three times and won just once. The tour to India in 2013 had more scandals and selection backtracking than Australia had wins. And there seems to be less understanding now around why a player is selected, and the grounds on which he was given an opportunity, than ever before thanks to the decline of Shield cricket and the failure of selectors to acknowledge and reward standout performers with a spot in the test side. Which probably explains why their hit-rate, as in the number of players they’ve unearthed who have found success at test level versus the number that were unsuccessful in their attempt and subsequently dropped, has reached an all time low and the out of favour fan looks at their selection methods as if they were made on a bingo card under a big top – intended of course, as they are, to find competent test cricketers, not irritate fans to the edge of enrolling in an anger management class.

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Trevor Hohns – Australia’s interim chairman of selectors

The sixteen-man squad to tour India, which was announced yesterday morning, included another selection that has the potential to make the selectors look foolish, being that this particular player – Mitch Swepson – was selected based on his performances in the BBL rather than his fourteen game first-class career, which, might I add, looks promising, but by no means prolific. Just as Matthew Renshaw’s did at the time of his selection. As much as it may appear like a huge gamble with all the makings to turn sour quicker than out of date milk and throw the series into a crisis situation, it could also turn out to be the straw that breaks the back of an established Indian side that has been troubled by touring spinners on just one occasion in their past twenty home series. So, you’ve got to try something, right? And this approach just about sums up the happy-go-lucky selection committee, who take more risks than a gambler but manage to stumble upon the odd winner from time to time. Mitch Swepson’s selection, though, may be based more on logic than any of those made in the aftermath of the Hobart test which saw Australia slump in a humiliating fashion to their second loss in a three match series.

I mentioned in the first Homework-gate confidential that Australia needed to consider taking a leg spinner to India if they wanted to challenge them. England gave Adil Rashid the opportunity on their most recent visit in December of last year and he let no one down, including those who were advocating he be left out of the side for reasons ranging from ability and discipline, to personal vendettas. 23 was the number of Indian wickets he took in a series that exhibited to the world that Kohli and his men can be beaten at their own game.

There is also little vision on Mitchell Swepson, other than the odd Big Bash over, and in an age where much of the teams preparation relies on visual examination, the lack of footage may unsettle the Indians and the element of surprise will pay dividends for selectors.

But just as you’re about to praise them for their bravery in taking the path less traveled by selecting a mystery leg-spinner, they go ahead and second guess themselves by leaving out Sydney test bolter Hilton Cartwright and re-selecting Mitchell Marsh in a move that makes them look less confident in their ability to choose a side than they do in finding a permanent chairman. Why choose Cartwright for a sole test match when your intention was always to go back to Mitchell Marsh in India? Maybe he was selected so that they could prove themselves right, by proving themselves wrong. Or maybe his white ball form for the Perth Scorchers was so red hot that it would look idiotic to leave him out now that t20 cricket forms the ideal barometer for test match selection. If that is the case, they must have missed how he was dismissed at the Gabba in the first ODI game against an off-spinner who would struggle to spin the ball less than a tenth of what Ashwin or Jadeja can in conditions that barely resembled the Indian dust bowls he will have to negotiate with his hard hands and penchant for scoring at a quick rate that, by virtue of the alien conditions, is fraught with danger.

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Australia’s selectors are putting their money on red and riding their luck when it comes to picking players for the Indian test tour.  

If this bizarre conundrum isn’t enough to make you think twice about the selection circus, maybe this will. The man who turned heads three and a half years ago at Trent Bridge, where he waltzed out to bat at number eleven and showed up the Australian batsman by thrashing the mighty English seam attack around the park to finish on 98, has also been included in the squad. Ashton Agar’s inclusion all those years ago will go down as the most brazen and unanticipated selection moves of the last decade, if not all time. The selectors went weak at the knees when they heard about this fresh faced off-spin bowler England had never heard of and took a huge leap of faith, handing him a Baggy Green in an Ashes test to give him a dose of reality. And now, as if by clockwork, he’s making his return after a few seasons plotting a career path back into the Australian side with Western Australia where he has taken sixteen wickets at 27.81 in the first half of this year’s Sheffield Shield. Only John Holland has tallied more wickets as a spinner, but the chance he was given in Sri Lanka, and the unfavourable results he produced, has made him undesirable in the sub-continent this time round.

All of the above says we should be saying kudos to the selectors for their rewarding of sterling performances at domestic level. Because at times this season, it seemed as though they were going with their gut feel when deciding between two potential candidates rather than using Shield performances as the deciding factor. Nic Maddinson being picked over Kurtis Patterson and the desperately unlucky Callum Ferguson is a case in point.

The selectors have also gone with a spin-heavy squad, which suggests that they have learnt from their mistakes and are looking to make amends for their past errors in judgement which have seen Australia on the receiving end of multiple sub-continent maulings. On the flip side, however, they’ve given a lifeline to Glenn Maxwell and, as previously mentioned, Mitchell Marsh who have both been poor in the sub-continent when given an opportunity previously. This says three things about the selectors: they’re more forgiving of past sins than a Catholic saint; have memory spans akin to that of a gnat; or perceive a lack of all-round depth at first-class level and are unwilling to explore all their options during a series against the other two big three nations because the fourth estate guillotine looms large and threatens to drop in a heartbeat if things go wrong. Even though they have taken this risk in the past and have come out the other side wounded, but alive to tell the tale. Maybe this is another example of them righting a past wrong in the most obscure way possible.

They’ve made it difficult for themselves to be liked by a rapidly disillusioned public who are sick to death of seeing them dig in the same spot without striking oil, but persevering anyway. If the slipper doesn’t fit, it generally means they aren’t right for test cricket. Even if the prevailing illusion is that their Prince Charming can squeeze into the mould and make it work with Cinderella if given enough opportunities.

At the moment it feels like the selectors are working on the notion that a successful selection call counteracts the devastating effects of a draw dropping and unwarranted one. Take, for example, the selection of Matthew Renshaw and the picture his early detection paints of the panel that threw him into the middle of the Indian Ocean with nothing but a life preserver named David Warner and told him to find his way back to dry land. Of course, it looks like a masterstroke, but it could have so easily gone haywire if Renshaw was not up to the task given that he was contracted to repair a sinking ship as an apprentice, under lights and in a test match that would have sent shock waves through the Australian camp and put them on high alert for the series against Pakistan if it were lost. You even forget for a moment that he was replacing Joe Burns, who was thrown a lifeline following an injury to Shaun Marsh for the second test against South Africa in Hobart, only to be sorting through the wreckage of a South African torpedo three days later. But how long can the pin the tail on the donkey exercise of squad selection remain and how many nauseating swings and roundabouts will we go through before things change? There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to selection, but there should be consistency and a willingness to cut players loose if they’ve been given multiple opportunities but have never stepped up to the plate as far as performance is concerned.

Lost in space – one step forward, four steps back for Pakistan

If the test series between Australia and Pakistan was a smiling contest, the tourists would have won it in a canter.

But smile as they did, only the herculean efforts of a few individuals across the course of a nightmare series left them bearing their pearly whites on the final day of the Sydney test.

There was more to grimace about than anything else when Josh Hazlewood took the final wicket to dismiss Pakistan in the very same disappointing fashion as the second innings in Melbourne and Hamilton.

The three game changing collapses they suffered across the tour cost them in the long run and will have left them with their heads spinning like a carousel. One of the leading side-effects to touring Australia.

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Australian opener David Warner celebrating a hundred during the first innings of the Sydney test. Picture – Deccan Chronicle.

The momentum they carried over from a successful tour of England – in one of their toughest road trips since they set up home base in the UAE – came to a grinding halt in New Zealand where their batting failed to cope with the unpredictability of the local wickets.

But the fire that was lit against the poms by their ageing warriors has been extinguished by father time and the Australian doldrums which have tripped up many an ageing batsman in the past.

Misbah’s fearless leadership during the most turbid and uncertain of times for Pakistan cricket makes him a gladiator of the modern game and one of the finest to ever pull on the green and yellow threads.

He drowned out the ever present distractions – spot-fixing scandals and the ineptitude of a corrupt board – through an iron will to show the world that Pakistan are far from the fallen giants they are often made out to be. All the while, staying true to himself and his roots.

Both with bat and in front of the press he exuded a calmness that would have made the most nervous debutante stand to attention.

But the man who is responsible for returning Pakistan to number one in the world would be lucky to get picked out at a set of traffic lights in Lahore by a passing motorist, such is the state of cricket in Pakistan and the fact that home is no longer where the heart is.

And he must now make a call on whether the time is right for him to pass the baton onto the next in line or maintain the legacy that has seen Pakistan make an unprecedented resurgence.

A whitewash never reflects well on the captain, no matter how much success he’s had in the past or whether he still has the backing of the dressing room.

Ricky Ponting’s leadership was rarely questioned, but when the bullets began flying from all angles he eventually surrendered and recognised that the captaincy had passed him by.

This series loss would be as difficult to stomach as any for Misbah, just as that 2010/11 Ashes series was for Ponting. Not because of the fashion in which it was lost, but for the heavy lifting that now must be had to prevent the Pakistan test side from sliding back down the world rankings.

And the lifting process is almost certain to leave a few with aching backs and put the odd nose out of joint.

There were flashpoints – the near historic win at the Gabba and Azhar Ali’s unbeaten double century on the biggest stage of all. But for all the positives Pakistan can take with them there are three negatives to cancel them out.

Yasir Shah, Pakistan’s key weapon, was used as poorly as an old dishrag and the fields that were set never allowed for him to prosper, let alone create pressure to bore the Australian batsmen out.

He’s the finest leg-spin bowler in the world but a tradesman is only as good as his tools.

Pakistan’s fast bowlers are some of the most highly qualified in the game but tacticians they are not.

Peter Handscomb had a field day against the all left-arm seam attack at the Gabba, and followed it up in Melbourne and Sydney to finish with a Bradman-esque average.

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The smiling assassin Yasir Shah. Or is that Lionel Messi?

Mohammad Amir may have taken out the award for most dramatic fielding effort when his knee plugged in the Gabba outfield, but the collective sighs of astonishment from Pakistan’s fielders as Handscomb carved yet another back foot punch behind point for four comes in at a close second.

Take one look at Handscomb’s wagon wheel’s and you can see that the region from backward point to third man was favoured heavily.

But Pakistan’s bowlers never adjusted, never came around the wicket to change the angle or plug up gaps to begin executing a plan B. Or maybe they did but it was too little too late by the time they came to their senses.

Any bowling side that allows an opposition player to chalk up a chance-less hundred inside a session must have their tactical nous questioned. Even if Warner’s brilliance on the day was enough to dismantle any attack the world over.

They were as helpless and similarly nonreactive in the face of a loss as any side to tour Australia in the recent past.

India made excuses for their performance until there was nothing left to complain about. New Zealand challenged but fell well short last year. And the West Indies failed to compete.

Only the South Africans have been able to leave Australia in a state of flux on home soil.

Where Pakistan ranks among these most recent visitors is difficult to tell because it was a series filled with so many contrasting emotions and performances.

One day people were questioning whether they had sent their A team. The next they looked more skillful and proficient than the Harlem Globetrotters.

Hottest ticket in town: how the Brisbane Heat have become fan favourites

We’ve reached the halfway mark of BBL six. The Brisbane Heat are top of the pops and the support from their fans is following suit. Like any great franchise with adequate financial support and exposure to a thriving sports market, success equals greater interest and that is exactly what the Heat have achieved this season.

Lynn and McCullum, coined the ‘Bash Brothers’ for their unique six-hitting ability and the game-breaking partnerships they have, will be separated in the coming week which will see some of the Heat’s young guns vie for a position. Reardon, Heazlett, Labuschagne and Doolan are all in line for the number three spot to be vacated by Lynn this Wednesday night when the Heat take on the Scorchers at the Gabba.

Lynn’s departure from the Heat to join the ODI squad has come as a shock to none given his scores this season which included a remarkable, game winning knock against the Sydney Thunder. He’s given the Heat the spark they needed to show the competition they are capable of mixing it with the marquee clubs, while McCullum’s experience alongside Peirson at the top of the order has proven the difference between the mediocre totals they were able to produce last year in his absence, and the big runs they’ve racked up in BBL|06.

There is no question that these two players, and the feats they achieve on a game by game basis without fail, put bums on seats at the Gabba. Their ability to clear the ropes more often than many of their peers is considered a desirable quality among modern viewers who would rather sit on their porch and watch paint dry than buy a ticket to a six hour day of test match cricket. In many ways we should be concerned that the oldest form of the game is being viewed in this way, but if t20 is the format keeping cricket afloat in this country, we must embrace the change and let it blossom like a flower in the sunlight and never let it whither.

The loss of a major player can often turn many fans away from heading to the ground to see their team in the flesh. It may also cause them to think twice about their chances of making the Americanised “play-off” stage and then the “Big Final”. But the Heat are quickly rising to prominence and are now a sporting brand as popular as the Brisbane Lions who, for five short years, were the indisputable rulers of the supporter base roost in Brisbane.

The Big Bash’s positioning during the school holidays, which has allowed adults to bring along their child to the cricket to see their heroes in action with the promise of a party-like atmosphere in-between, has been the biggest contributor to the Heat’s popularity and has sent crowd figures through the roof. The fact that a supporter can now ride the highs and lows of their side through an entire season on terrestrial television, unlike the other major sporting codes in Australia where fans may go weeks without seeing their team play if they don’t have access to pay TV, has inspired a generation and created a product whose narrative is easy to follow.

When word was released by the major newspaper chains that tickets to their opening home game were being scalped through online dealers, cricket and the Heat brand had officially reached its peak. Only the Lions during their pomp saw fans take more drastic measures to get their hands on the hottest ticket in town.

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The Brisbane Heat’s first home game against the Hobart Hurricanes in front of 36,000 fans

Such was their dominance at the time, the demand for tickets meant the beating heart of the Lions and the Gabba was moved off site for the sake of 5,000 seats, raising the capacity to 42,000. But the Brisbane Lions haven’t experienced the same success since and the Gabba has gone unfilled for the majority of the last decade. Even the test matches hosted in Brisbane, including the recently concluded day/ night phenomenon, have failed to pack out the Gabba in the same way the Heat do. Perhaps this says more about the format and the league than the team. But it is difficult to argue that the Heat, and the brand it has created, is not at least a factor in the continued support from the Brisbane public.

The domestic cricket crowd records at the Gabba have been smashed since the Heat came into existence six years ago and if they continue their exciting style of play more will be set. Only the Sheffield Shield final of 1994/95, which saw AB captain Queensland to their first title in front of a boisterous and die-hard-filled crowd in the days before the Gabba was turned into a concrete amphitheater, would be a bigger moment in the history of Queensland cricket. The success the Shield side experienced during 2011 and 2012, which culminated in a home final at the Gabba, were sparsely attended and are now barely remembered thanks to t20 cricket. But if the Heat make it all the way to the final in late January – pending performance, injury and the myriad variables which all play a role in how far a side can prolong its campaign – fans will flock to the ticket gates, members will race to grab the most prized seats in the house and the Gabba will see crowd numbers eclipse 40,000 for the first time since the grandstands were built.

It’s difficult to think that AB and his boys wouldn’t have attracted a sizable crowd had the stands been built during the nineties. There was no t20 to compete with, domestic cricket had a spiking pulse and corporate greed wasn’t taking the game to the brink of extinction like it is today. Being at the Gabba when AB raced around the outfield with the Shield held aloft will forever be the most cherished moment in Queensland cricket’s history. It may even be the most memorable at the Gabba. But there is no doubting that the atmosphere inside the ground if the Heat were to make a Big Bash final this year, or in the future, would give the larrikans who populated the Gabba hill on the final day of the 1994/95 Sheffield Shield final a run for their money in the prestige stakes. “I was their when the Bulls won their first Shield” might be a more revered statement than “I saw the Heat take out the Big Bash title” for the time being. But with the BBL continuing to grow in popularity on a worldwide scale, the ignorance of the t20 minded follower may drown out the voices of those who believe winning a Shield is the pinnacle of domestic cricket in Australia. Particularly when you consider which would receive greater media coverage.

Brendan McCullum may be hoisting a nondescript trophy with little historical relevance on the very same patch of grass that AB received that all important Shield 22 years ago, and there are question marks over which will hold greater importance to the average fan. It’s an interesting thought that the memories of that final may fade from history with the patrons who hold onto them as a result of the popularity of a format that wasn’t even conceived when the game that defined cricket in Queensland was played. But we must roll with the times and if t20 cricket titles, played in a Baseball style league, are held in higher regard than a Sheffield Shield crown, than this is a sad reality that Australian cricket must face. Even if these monumental shifts in focus spell trouble for the future successes of the Australian test side.

Homework-gate Confidential – #01 – caught in a spin

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Glenn Maxwell – will he return in India?

I’ve decided that in the lead up to India, which is still a full two months and a bit away, I would devote some posts to the forthcoming tour in a mini blog series entitled “Homework-gate Confidential”. This test series holds such enormous importance for Australia, not least because of the tumultuous time they had in 2013 and the unhappy returns in the sub-continent during 2016. They’ve beaten Pakistan, to the surprise and excitement of few, and a whitewash is well and truly on the cards. Whether it eventuates is totally dependent on what the wicket is like and where the players heads are at. Is the first test in Pune and the positions up for grabs already beginning to distract them from the task at hand?

Ashton Agar and Steve O’Keefe have been added to the squad for the Sydney test in anticipation of a turning track, but this looks like a move designed to asses their spin options for the sub-continent given the series is already sewn-up. This is where the first “Homework-gate Confidential” ties in nicely to pose the all-encompassing question – who should we take to India in February? This edition will be based on our spin bowlers as who is currently our most skilled and competent is still up in the air. They hold the keys to victory on the spinning tracks in India and how they perform is as important, if not more, than the number of runs the batting unit score. If Kohli is let off the chain to score game winning hundreds in the first innings as he was allowed to against England, Australia can kiss goodbye to their chances of an odds-defying series victory.

England didn’t possess the spin bowling stocks to outclass Ashwin and Jadeja and neither do Australia. But to give themselves a fighting chance of walking away from the four-test series with their reputations intact, the selectors must first choose the right men for the job and conditions. It will be like setting loose a wolf among the cattle if they fail to get this combination right.

England went on tour with five spin bowlers and, such was the chopping and changing of bowlers on a game-by-game basis, only two managed to eclipse the efforts of their fast bowlers which didn’t put them within touching distance of Ashwin (28 wickets) and Jadeja (26 wickets). Rashid was the one glaring exception and was outstanding in a series where the next best spin bowler took just two wickets a game. Australia should take notice and consider the effectiveness and impact a leg-spin bowler – of which their are none currently in the Australian squad – can have with their ability to rip and spin the ball more than the finger spinners they have persisted with for the past six years.

The last specialist leg-spin bowler to be selected in a test match for Australia was the current captain who is now scoring runs for fun at number four. The selectors have not traveled down the wrist-spinning route since due to the effectiveness of Nathan Lyon, and are unlikely to reach into their bag of young leg spin aces at any stage during the series. But the brilliance of Rashid shows that India’s batsmen have a weakness that is waiting to be exploited by a world class wrist-spinner. And this cannot be replicated by the left arm finger spin of Ashton Agar or Steve O’Keefe. Australia’s selectors must take a leap of faith.

Nathan Lyon endured a lean wicket taking patch during 2016 but he will, barring injury, be the first picked and much rides on his ability to match it with India’s all-conquering spin twins and bowl Australia to victory on the final two days where the wickets will be at their most volatile. Two weeks ago his position was under threat but a spell in Melbourne under immense pressure has repayed the selectors faith. He underachieved in Sri Lanka snagging just sixteen wickets at 31.93 when Australia needed him most and hasn’t been the wicket taking weapon that we’ve come to expect lately. There’s no doubt that he is Australia’s most accomplished off-spin bowler and it’s high time he puts his name up in lights with a career defining tour.

There is no greater stage for a spin bowler. India may break the resilience Lyon has shown to keep his spot amidst growing uncertainty around his position. But by the same token, it may be the scene of his resurrection and put him back on the map as someone to be weary of at home as well as abroad.

The test career of Glenn Maxwell, which unraveled in just three short test matches in the sub-continent, should be given a chance to blossom once again. Moeen Ali was a vital cog in the English wheel during their recent tour and it is this role that Maxwell should seek to undertake. Putting a full-time batsman or a seam up all-rounder at number six on a tour to India would be a monumental mistake. The more spin bowlers Australia have at their disposal, the greater chance they have of bowling India out for a total that is attainable with their current crop of inexperienced middle order batsmen. Kohli, Pujara and Vijay know their own games better than the back of their hands and in Jadeja and Jayant they have a lower order capable of taking the game away from Australia in one innings.

England, with Jake Ball and Chris Woakes alongside stalwarts Anderson and Broad, were unable to blunt the effectiveness of India’s batsmen and were the human equivalent of a bowling machine when the ball lost its shine and the batsman were set. Throwing soon to be test newcomer Cartwright into the deep end under these circumstances and asking him to bowl a side out on the final day when the wickets aren’t conducive to swing or seam movement is destined to yield unfavorable results.

Maxwell is more than capable of batting in the number six position with his sub-continent wrists and abundant knowledge of local conditions having toured once before and through his yearly participation in the IPL. But it is his spin bowling that will prove to be his most valuable asset if he is given an unlikely call-up to the scene of his career stunting crimes with bat and ball four years ago.

Australia have a conundrum but the answers to their queries are hiding in plain sight. A great deal rides on how the selectors use the players they have at their disposal.

The next installments of “Homework-gate Confidential” will be posted periodically in the lead up to the tour. Not all will be as long as this and some posts will be there purely for your comments.

Happy New Year!