What is wrong with Australian Cricket?
In all of the post-mortems into Australia’s dismal attempt to regain the Ashes it appears that the blame has been sheeted home to the Captain, the batsmen and the selectors. Very little attention has been paid to the critical issues hindering the development of both our batsmen and bowlers at the second and third levels of the game and our failed preparation.
The Sheffield Shield competition has been undermined by Cricket Australia’s greed and the obligations they have committed to under the Future Tours Program.
The early season should be the most intense level of the Sheffield Shield Competition with players country wide vying for international selection against the best of the best. All of our outbound tours should be in the February to April period including those to the sub-continent.
Cricketers, like all other athletes, need a proper pre-season in order to perform at their optimum. ustralia’s pre-season was shortened by the unfortunate 2-test tour of India in October. More than this though, the players at lower levels of the game should be training with the national team players in the pre-season especially our up and coming state players much like our Wallabies complete their pre-season with the Super 14/15 teams.
Following the pre-season, our best players need the opportunity to fine tune their games on pitches that best resemble the conditions they are going to face throughout the Summer.
All Sheffield Shield Matches should be held in the country’s test venues. NSW recently played Queensland at Blacktown Olympic Park. The benefit gained from taking the game to the people of NSW of which I imagine less than 100 turned up each day is far less than the possible experience lost by the Queenslanders when they’re asked to step up to national level in future SCG tests.
The changes to the one-day Ryobi Cup competition have also been a complete failure and this competition now represents a distraction with no meaningful practice for one-day international competition.
With the elevation of the Twenty20 Big Bash to main event, one can’t help but feel that this competition is set to be significantly shaved, especially in a non-world cup year to a single round robin competition.
The review of the Sheffield Shield competition will reportedly result in the removal of the final. This may be viewed as a win in the context of the rumoured reduction to 8 games mentioned earlier in the Summer. It is the Sheffield Shield that has been the basis of our success for 20 years. The competition needs significantly improved scheduling as it has been undermined by the lack of international players for too many seasons.
Schedule improvements may actually occur as a result of the introduction of the extended Big Bash in January forcing games to either extremity of the season where more players will be available.
Summer International Timeline
The one-day international portion of the Summer now needs to be completed in as short of a timeframe as possible and prior to the first test. A week between the end of those games and the first test will also allow for another Shield match and more fine tuning. Twenty20 should be left for the end of the International summer so that it in no way interferes with test match preparation and also allows the best of the Big Bash their opportunity for a call up.
Ideally the Schedule would look something like:
October – 4 Sheffield Shield games, 4 Ryobi Cup
November – 1 Ryobi Cup (and final) then 2 weeks of one-day internationals (6-8 games), then 1 Sheffield Shield, then 1st test
December – 3 or 4 tests (depending on 5 or 6 test Summer)
January – 1 Test, Big Bash
February – Big Bash, Twenty 20 Internationals, 1 Sheffield Shield, start of overseas tour to SA/NZ/WI/Subcontinent
March – 3 Sheffield Shield, Overseas tour to SA/NZ/WI/Subcontinent
Grade cricket needs to be re-evaluated to ensure all of the development needs of players are met. The Sydney Grade competition this Summer has 10 two-day games. This is 5 less than in the late 90’s and should not be underestimated as a contributor to our batting woes. The patience learned batting for a full day without the run-rate pressure of limited overs cricket holds batsmen in good stead for stepping up through the levels.
An undermined Sheffield Shield competition also reduces the number of elite players playing in the grade competitions around the country.
It is vital that Cricket Australia get the balance right in their domestic scheduling and the finalisation of the 2014-2020 Future Tours Program. The ideal preparation for our players in each form of the game needs to be focused on and some specialisation of the calendar with the appropriate form of the international game following an intense period of Domestic cricket in that same form.