Does Steve Smith believe that spin can win matches?

As Australia mentally prepares for a gruelling tour of India, one curious characteristic of captain Stephen Smith is being ignored. This is Smith’s attitude towards spin and spinners when it comes to any form of cricket.

In India, any international team that wants to win a Test series must have a decent spin attack. This has become the case in recent years; the last time a team won in India was when England did so in 2012. They had Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann in their ranks.

During the three-Test series against Pakistan that concluded recently, Smith showed a curious reluctance to give the side’s only spinner, Nathan Lyon, a lengthy stint. He mostly depended on the medium-pacers and since Australia won all three Tests there were no questions raised.

His attitude towards spin was underlined in the second one-day game against Pakistan — in which the visitors registered a win at the MCG after 32 years — where he allowed Travis Head, one of two players who was expected to comprise the spin contingent, just three overs, one of them being the last of the match.

Pakistan bowled first, and 24 of the 50 overs were sent down by spinners. Some of these spin bowlers were part-timers: Mohammad Hafeez, the captain, is also the opening batsman, and Shoaib Malik bats at number five. They managed to contain Australia to 220, on a wicket that had uncertain bounce, but no great degree of turn.

Thus, Smith’s refusal to use spin is rather perplexing, even more so when one considers the fact that Head had bowled 10 overs against Pakistan in the first one-day game and given away just 28 runs.

Head’s first over went for 11 and after that he was kept away from the bowling crease until the 46th over, when it was all over bar the shouting. Pakistan’s winning run came from a wide bowled by Head.

So how will Smith adjust to the reality of spin in India? The Australian squad named for the tour has four spinners in its ranks: Lyon, Steve O’Keefe, Mitchell Swepson and Ashton Agar. How will Smith utilise these resources? He has only three recognised medium-pacers in the team: Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Jackson Bird.

The last time Australia toured India in 2013, it was an unmitigated disaster ending in a 4-0 brownwash. But Lyon did take seven wickets in the final Test in Delhi in a relatively low-scoring game. Glenn Maxwell had 4-127 in the second Test which Australia lost by an innings. Xavier Doherty, the other spinner in the ranks, did nothing to set the Yarra on fire.

Will Smith treat the spinners the same way that he has so far in his career? Will he display the same reluctance to bowl Lyon and the others? This is his first tour of India as captain and while he did play in two Tests on the losing 2013 tour, his experience of the country is very limited.

One aspect of the squad which defies explanation is the selection of a leg-spinner. No leggie, not even Shane Warne, has done well in Indian conditions. (Indeed, Warne has never done well against Indian batsmen, no matter the venue.) Then why take a leggie along, especially an uncapped one? Will he be thrown into the cauldron (and in India the use of the word cauldron is apt) and asked to take five wickets in order to keep his place in the side? Will it be another case of a youngster going along for one tour and then being discarded?

We should have answers to these questions by the end of March.

Big Bash League set for expansion and mediocrity

Cricket Australia is all set to expand the number of Big Bash teams next year – and in the process slowly begin killing the goose that has so far laid many 22-carat eggs.

In its sixth year, the BBL has been an overwhelming success until last year but there are signs that people would prefer that things remain as they are.

For example, the biggest crowd last year was for the clash between the two Melbourne teams, the Renegades and the Stars. A total of 80,883 turned up for the first clash between these two teams in 2015-16.

This year, 2016-17, the crowd for the corresponding game was nearly 10,000 less. Should Cricket Australia not take a hint from occurrences like this? Crowds in 2016-17 have, on the whole, been less than in 2015-16.

As of today, 22 matches have been played; there are another 10 to go before the semi-finals and final. Only in two games, have teams been asked to chase 200 or over. That means only two teams, the Brisbane Heat and the Melbourne Stars, have managed to make 200 or over.

Most of the games have been one-sided. Just two games have gone down to the last ball. Not a single century has been scored.

Overall many of the players seem to be jaded. That is not surprising for there are now so many Twenty20 leagues around the world — Pakistan (played in the UAE), the West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh all have their own leagues — that many players who are now literally T20 mercenaries come to the BBL after having played in at least a few of these competitions.

If they are mentally tired at the end of the year, who can blame them? They are playing as much as they can for it is their livelihood. They have only a few years in which they can earn money from this form of the game.

The TV commentators make the game unwatchable. There are a host of former Australian players who form the commentary team and to say they are mediocre would be paying them a compliment. T20 cricket itself sees heightened action but these ex-players keep trying to hype up everything. They have limited vocabularies and dumb down things to an incredible level.

Damien Fleming and Adam Gilchrist are horrible at the mike and it is clear that they are there for the money. They were both competent cricketers but have reached their level of incompetence as commentators. Gilchrist makes one cringe, he cannot speak a sentence without acting as an arse-licker of a very high order.

Some of the other commentators have clear conflicts of interest: Mark Waugh is a national selector and it is unethical for him to sit in the commentary box making comments about players whose futures he could well decide. But then one would recall that he is the same person who took money from a bookmaker when he was a player. The same goes for Ricky Ponting who is now an assistant coach for the national T20 team.

But hey, who gives a flying f*** these days? There’s good money available to these poor-quality commentators so they take it and run. Not that they need it. They lack the integrity to act in an ethical way.

Back to Cricket Australia and its expansion plans. One doubts that its chief executive James Sutherland will bother much about whether crowds grow or whether people watch; after all, CA will make its money before a single ball is bowled. The TV contract will increase, the TV channel in question, Channel 10, will welcome the additional games, and all will be right with the world.

This year there are 32 games; each team will play the others and the two Melbourne teams, the two Sydney teams, Adelaide and Hobart, and Brisbane and Perth, will play each other twice. Once the expansion is complete, that number of games will increase. Do people want to see more and more ordinary games that are won by big margins or do they want to see better games that go down to the wire?