Ninety-one runs from 78 balls with eight wickets in hand. That equation for any professional T20 team should be a cakewalk. That was the equation for Australia against Pakistan in Dubai last month.

Chris Lynn, a feared T20 batsman the world over, had been dropped six balls earlier at deep square leg having top-edged a sweep off Imad Wasim. He attempted another sweep, without even a sighter from the legspin of Shadab Khan, and holed out at deep midwicket.

Three overs later Australia needed 76 from 60 balls with six wickets in hand. Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh were at the crease with D'Arcy Short still to come. Maxwell tried to hit the next ball from Shadab into the stands from the crease; he miscued to long-off and holed out. Australia went on to lose.

A week later at the same venue Pakistan needed 104 runs from 84 balls with nine wickets in hand to clinch the series against New Zealand. Babar Azam, the world's No.1 ranked T20 batsman, with a T20 career strike rate of 118.31 compared to Lynn's 144.10 and Maxwell's 155.55, batted for the next seven overs without risk. He faced 12 balls of spin excluding two wides, scored 12 runs and didn't hit a ball in the air.

He was caught for 40 off 41 balls trying to loft a Tim Southee slower ball over the ring. Pakistan's new equation was 58 off 42 with eight wickets. Mohammad Hafeez faced six balls, absorbed one dot, scored four singles and a two. With 40 needed from 24 deliveries, Hafeez launched Ish Sodhi twice in three balls. Pakistan won by six wickets with two balls to spare.


Cricket Australia is intent on taking T20I cricket seriously.

So much so that of the 42 recommendations set out in the Longstaff Review, that has purged Australian cricket of its ills, the only one CA rejected was the call for Australia Test and one-day players to be excused from T20Is in order to play more Sheffield Shield cricket.

The selectors have turned the Australian T20 team into a specialist side over the last 12 months, picked specifically on the back of BBL form and chock-full of Australia's best T20 talent. In fact, Australia's T20 team has played matches in Australia and New Zealand while the Test team has started tours in India and South Africa in the last two years.

But the left-arm orthodox of Imad and the right-arm legspin of Shadab rendered that talent useless on good, albeit slow, surfaces in the UAE. Australia's play against spin in Test cricket has been a cause for concern over many years, one they went some way to rectifying in the UAE, only to come unstuck by the military medium precision of Mohammad Abbas. Their play against spin in T20 cricket is also under the spotlight.

Big Bash League franchises have turned their gaze to spinners as preferred overseas signings citing a weakness among Australia's domestic batsmen. Shadab, Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi among others have been revelations.

But the stats of Australia's T20I players against spin in the BBL don't necessarily match that theory. While spin to Lynn and Short, in particular in Powerplays have been commonplace to try and quell their influence, both have decent records against spin in the BBL.

Maxwell, Aaron Finch, Alex Carey and Ben McDermott also have excellent records against spin in the BBL. One of the best spinners in BBL cricket across the eight seasons, Michael Beer, said the development of play against him and others has been clear from season one to now.

"It's definitely changed," Beer said.

"I can almost say in the first BBL people were happy just to get through my first over. Whereas last year, people were on the attack. That's the game changing not just the way the Aussie batsmen play.

"I even look back to the first couple of BBLs, I can probably count on one hand how many guys hit me over my head for six outside of the Powerplay, because they'd see long-on and long-off and almost cut that shot out.

"Now the guys think, 'I actually hit this shot quite easily because I've trained, I've practiced it a lot more'. So, in terms of that sort of stuff I think the game and our batting has developed hugely. But obviously it's taken awhile."

But the players' records against spin in the IPL and in T20Is in Asia are nowhere near as good. You could mount an argument that the standard of spinners is better both internationally, and in the IPL, but there are world-class spinners playing in the BBL.

The quality of surfaces, techniques and tactics borne from a lack of experience in those conditions appear the more likely cause.

"It's not easy," said Michael Hussey, one of Australia's best multi-format, all-surface players.

"The first time, the second time, the third time, you're going to find it tough playing in the subcontinent. It's not until you've gained some experience playing in those conditions, probably failed a few times and then slowly start to figure out. How can I play differently to score runs here? That's been a bit of a problem. We've chopped and changed our team so much we haven't probably given our guys two, three, four, five, six different goes at it to actually figure it out."

To that point, Australia have used as many as 12 different players to bat in the top seven in T20Is in this calendar year alone and 19 across the last two years.


Australia had a clear plan to be ultra-aggressive against spin in the first T20I in Abu Dhabi. It is the Australian way. Target the first ball of an over or a spell to put a spinner under immediate pressure. It backfired badly. There was panic, and a complete reversal of tactics in game two, where a cautious go-slow caused more problems. In game three they were betwixt and between.

It can be written off as signs of a fragile side, devoid of experience and confidence at a vulnerable time in Australian cricket.

But techniques and tactics against spin in short-form cricket are part of a wider problem in Australia's high-performance system. Power-hitting from the crease against spin is encouraged in Australia. It does require incredible hand-eye ability, but the predictable spin and bounce from Australia's predominantly flawless pitches allows the most talented a chance to succeed. The likes of Finch, Short, Lynn and Maxwell do as their abilities are extraordinary.

"You're quite often a product of the environment that you're brought up on," Hussey said. "Certainly in Australia, our pitches have been pretty flat and haven't really turned much and you can just basically stand and deliver particularly against the spinners because there's not a lot of spin there. But once we get to the subcontinent things are very different. You can't just stand and deliver, or you at least have to earn that right."

High quality footwork, percentage batting and control are the hallmarks of the world's best T20 players of spin at the moment. Rohit Sharma's unbeaten century against West Indies was a case in point. He absorbed a maiden upfront, unperturbed by any ramifications, which in itself takes supreme confidence. He targeted the left-arm orthodox of Khary Pierre in the Powerplay striking boundaries with the first ball he faced in the fourth and sixth over. But neither were wild swipes; one with the spin, presenting the full face, over mid-off, the other with the drift over mid-on. He then milked singles from the remainder of both overs. He also allowed Fabian Allen to bowl three overs outside the Powerplay for just 17 runs, without too much risk, before unleashing consecutive slog sweeps in Allen's fourth, the 13th of the innings, when the run-rate was barely above eight.

It provided a stark contrast to Australia's frantic early slogs against Shadab and Imad.

"My observations of the great players that play spin in all forms of the game, but in T20 cricket, is they've got this great ability to manipulate the fields and hit the ball in different areas and a great ability to get off strike and work the ball into the gaps and play different angles and generally that comes from playing a lot later," Hussey explained.

"Whereas in Australia because the pitches are so true and a bit faster we can just hit through the line and we can get out a bit in front of ourselves and you get away with it. But on the slower pitches, you can't really do that, you've got to really wait for the ball."

There is also a desire to keep hitting if you strike an early blow, to turn a possible 10-run over into a 20-run over and potentially leave your opponents a bowler short by taking a spinner out of the equation.

"I don't think it's bad tactic to have a crack early," Hussey said.

"If you can get a boundary away in the first couple of balls he can go into a defensive frame of mind and you take pressure off yourself.

"I sort of feel as though we've got some amazing hitters. But it's sort of either block, block, block and then six, rather than one, two, one, one, two and then a four or six to finish the over, which turns out to be a great over. Everyone is slightly different on how they would go about that."

Australia's two quickest scorers against spin outside of the suspended David Warner, are Finch and Maxwell. They score at 2.14 and 1.43 runs per over respectively quicker than Rohit in all T20s over the past three years, but average 7.52 and 14.16 fewer runs per dismissal against spin.

T20 batting is about risk versus reward, particularly against spin. The difference in the runs per over is merely Finch and Maxwell clearing the rope once as opposed to Rohit finding it with placement and control, while the cost of trying to clear it comes at a much higher price.

No one strikes this balance better than Virat Kohli, averaging 69.35 against spin while striking at 8.49 per over the past three years in all T20s. Australia's best, Warner, averages 40.12 while scoring at 8.77.


Adaptability and experience is a trademark of both Kohli and Warner.

"You need to adapt to whatever the situation is throwing at you, really, and whatever the team needs from you at that stage," Hussey said.

"That just comes with experience. I hope, that if we identify a whole group of players that we think are good enough that we actually stick with them and give them a chance to really learn those batsmanship skills."

From a bowler's perspective predictability made Beer's job easier.

"There's that much footage and guys have played that much T20 cricket," Beer said. "Nothing really comes out of the blue. Unless they're instructed to do something they don't normally do, not too many people get you off guard."

Australia have stuck with the batting group from the UAE for the four T20 matches against South Africa and India, with the exception of Marcus Stoinis who replaces Mitchell Marsh in the middle order.

Spin was virtually a non-factor in the one-day series against South Africa and despite Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi being available for South Africa and Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal for India, Hussey believes spin won't be as big a factor in the T20s.

"Generally the pitches are pretty good and they shouldn't spin the ball as much," Hussey said.

"The mystery guys, the ones that are hard to read, they'll pose anyone issues on any surface, so I think of someone like a Rashid Khan in the Big Bash, just because he's so hard to pick, he's going to be a challenge everywhere."

Like all aspects of Australia's cricket at the moment, improved play against spin in T20 cricket will no doubt lead to better results.

The equation is simple, adapt and prosper.

Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne