Let me say from the outset that I have not watched a single ball of the revamped Big Bash League (BBL) since its inception last summer. While it may seem silly, it has been done as an act of principle.
Do I dislike T20 as a format? No. I think it is great fun as a form of sporting entertainment, and the depth and breadth of skills on display can be a wonder to behold.
What I find abhorrent is the manufactured nature of the BBL and the precedence that Cricket Australia places on this tournament over the supposed number one form of the game – Test matches.
We have all heard of the Argus Report that, as quoted by Australian Cricketers Association chief executive Paul Marsh yesterday, was about “Cricket Australia’s stated prioritisation of Test cricket”.
The key phrase here is ‘stated prioritisation’, because I’m not sure the actions we’re seeing in recent times are doing anything to back these words up.
Take the following, quoted directly from the Argus report itself:
– Statistics show that our batting has declined in the past four years
– Our top six has had the tendency to underperform in key Tests
Without question, the most ‘key’ Test Australia has played since the release of this report some 16 months ago was the third against South Africa last week.
The result? After a second string Australian attack put the strongest batting line-up in the world to the sword and bowled them out for 225 in their first innings, our batsmen crumbed under the onslaught of high quality Test match bowling, and could manage only a paltry 163 in reply.
As the South Africans showed in their second innings, this was a wicket where runs were easy to come by – if batsmen were disciplined and patient enough to get through the new ball.
The batsman most to blame for the Aussie collapse was David Warner, our Test opener who is the symbol and poster-child of the T20 generation.
To his credit, he had survived the previous evening where Ed Cowan and Shane Watson could not, and walked out to open the play on day two with nightwatchman Nathan Lyon for company, Australia at a perilous 2/33.
On a side note, I would love to captain Australia simply to offer my batsmen a nightwatchman when the circumstance arose. Anyone accepting such protection would never wear the baggy green under my command again. There are few weaker acts in cricket, and it is poor strategy to boot.
But back to Warner. Lyon, our number 11 in normal circumstances, could not be counted on to be there for long, and the struggles of Ricky Ponting, next man in, had been well documented.
The state of the game demanded a mature innings from Warner. The dire circumstances he’d be leaving his country in if falling should have dictated his mindset. He needed the courage to put his natural game away for the betterment of the team.
His response? To the fourth ball he faced that morning, he swung wildly, with all the elegance and control of a man trying to chop up snakes in a phone booth.
The result? Lyon and Ponting soon followed as predicted, and for once Michael Clarke couldn’t save the day. An overnight 2/33 became 6/45 in the space of six overs, and a perilous position became unsalvageable. Momentum, hope, and the match were lost.
Now all of this is not to do a hatchet job on David Warner. After all, this was only his 24th first class match, half of which have been at Test level. It is to be hoped that he is learning with each outing, although little evidence of this has been seen so far.
A common defence of a player like Warner, and it was often used when Brad Haddin decided to forgo a fighting innings for lazy and self-indulgent play, is “that’s the way he plays”.
Next time I get pulled over for speeding, I’ll just tell the police “that’s the way I drive”.
At the cinema, I might remove my shoes and talk loudly on my phone under the proviso of “that’s the way I watch”.
Perhaps Alan Jones can say Julia Gillard’s father died of shame, and write it off as “that’s the way I broadcast”.
These are childish responses that abdicate responsibility. As a cricket-watching audience, we must demand more from our elite, and apply higher standards.
But rather than working on his red-ball game in a tour match, the Sheffield Shield, or even, heaven forbid, grade cricket, according to Cricket Australia the most suitable way for Warner to overcome his deficiencies and prepare for another test match was to turn out for the Sydney Someone’s.
In fact, all first class cricket outside the Test matches has been suspended for nigh on two months during the peak cricket-watching season so the BBL can take place.
What sort of message does this send?
Another example of the BBL being put ahead of all else was the recently completed Chairman’s XI tour match against the visiting Sri Lankans.
Wouldn’t it have been great to see a four day match against a visiting international team consisting of a team of ‘possibles’ vying for Test match selection?
Warner and Cowan could have been selected to work on their still shaky opening partnership, followed by the likes of Phil Hughes, Rob Quiney, Usman Khawaja and Alex Doolan or Callum Ferguson fighting for the spot vacated by Ricky Ponting.
Surely a match of such quality could be televised on Foxtel and played over the weekend to allow fans to see these players whose names we read about, but who few of us get the chance to see in action.
Instead we were served up a host of players whose parents had barely heard of them in a two and a half day joke that I’m not prepared to call a cricket match.
As fellow Roar contributor Brett McKay explained to me in these pages last week, “it’s worth noting that the selections for the Chairman’s game would’ve been conducted with a view to lessening the impact on Big Bash sides with both Melbourne and Sydney teams playing during the three-day game.”
Unfortunately for me, and for those of us that do actually prioritise Test cricket, Brett was correct, and so I continue to be disheartened by the supposed commercial realities of the cricket world we live in.
Remember the time when the Melbourne and Sydney Tests held from Boxing Day and in the New Year were the centrepiece of the cricket season? Now they are lucky to be included as afterthoughts.
What was once a roast dinner with all the trimmings has been consigned to the ignominy of an after-dinner mint.
So I’ll continue to boycott the BBL, carrying on my one man crusade as I dream of a tomorrow where the phrase ‘the prioritisation of Test cricket’ is more than just empty words.