Tonight, Australia will close the international cricket summer with a Twenty20 International against the West Indies at Brisbane.
However, thanks to the unwieldy and, at times, bewildering scheduling that has highlighted this summer, the team selected will be far from a first-choice side.
In fact, it won’t even be the only Australian side playing today. Around the same time the Australian Twenty20 team is starting its match in the evening, an Australian XI will be in the final stages of a two-day match against an Indian President’s XI in Chennai – the first match of Australia’s six-week tour of India.
Thanks to Cricket Australia’s scheduling of a five-match ODI series against the West Indies that overlaps a tour to India, the Test squad has been departing to the subcontinent in dribs and drabs.
So neither team will feature Michael Clarke, David Warner, Shane Watson, Mitchell Starc, or Phil Hughes, who are all likely to be part of the first-choice side.
The team playing the Indian President’s XI is made up of the only 11 players who were actually in India at the time the match began. Wicketkeeper Matthew Wade is skippering a team with two specialist batsman, three all rounders and five bowlers.
One of the team isn’t even an official playing member of the squad. Nineteen-year-old Western Australia spinner Ashton Agar is playing after heading over to act as a net bowler. He only made his First-class debut less than a month ago.
The team’s masseur, Grant Baldwin, is the 12th man.
Normally, this would all be gobsmacking for most of the Australian cricket public. These days however, with one bizarre decision following the other, it will probably met with a bemused shrug of the shoulders – maybe even some eye rolling.
Of course, it’s rare for two separate Australian cricket teams play on the same day.
Discounting the handful of Australia v Australia ‘A’ matches in the mid-90s, you have to stretch back more than 35 years to find the most significant instance of two ‘senior’ Australian sides playing on the same day.
The specific date is 2 December 1977: the opening day of World Series Cricket. WSC Australia took on WSC West Indies in a Supertest at VFL Park, Melbourne. At the same time, around 1600 kilometres away at the ‘Gabba, an ‘establishment’ Australian team was commencing a Test match against India, with 41-year-old Bob Simpson as captain.
That was the result of a deep schism within the game that is still the most influential event in cricket history. The current circumstance is entirely self-inflicted.
However, it could very well be something we will have to get used to. The modern approach to scheduling, combined with the ‘informed player management’ doctrine adopted by the Australian selection panel, means we are now likely to see matches, as News Limited’s Malcolm Conn said, with an Australian team, not the Australian team.
Over the course of this summer, a total of 34 players have been selected in international matches. This could rise to 36 depending on who is selected tonight.
There has been a large amount of criticism directed at Cricket Australia this summer by fans, journalists and former players.
John Inverarity has been the chief target for the disgruntled. Rotating players has some, but many are of the opinion that the rotations are now spinning out of control.
Commentators such as Conn, Robert Craddock and Phil Rothfield have decried this, saying the ticket holders are being short changed. The lacklustre crowds at many fixtures this season were cited as evidence.
Inverarity points out though, with some justification, that the scheduling of matches now necessitates player management. Players simply cannot participate in every match on the calendar.
He has a point. Today’s international players must juggle commitments for the entire year: international cricket, domestic cricket and the myriad of lucrative Twenty20 competitions. Furthermore, they have to adjust techniques and training to adapt to three different formats of cricket.
At best, this can impact a player’s form. At worst, it can impact their career. Promising speedster Pat Cummins rubbed himself out of this summer during the Champions League after his Twenty20 bowling action’ caused a stress fracture in his back.
He was the first in a long line of injured cricketers who have missed at least part of the summer. First the fast bowlers were stricken. Now the batsmen are struggling with their hamstrings.
On the other hand, former Test fast bowler turned Fast bowler Geoff Lawson believes players, particularly fast bowlers, are not playing enough. Their bodies aren’t hardened by repetition in match situations.
Whoever is right, players are still getting injured, the crowds are still dwindling and the scheduling still invites ridicule.
One consideration that hasn’t been discussed to any great length is not the volume of matches, but the time in between.
Thanks to the addition of the ICC World Twenty20 Championship, the Champions League and tournaments such as the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League, players are now spending a lot more time travelling to their next match – time that could have been spent recovering from the previous one.
Former Australian physical performance manager Jock Campbell raised this only last week on ninemsn, adding that the regular flights were also having a detrimental affect.
“Our cricketers are being forced onto the park five times in 10 days, which means they’re also being forced to fly on six occasions,” he said. “Add to that the Allan Border Medal in Melbourne, just a day after the second ODI in Perth, and you can easily see why the players may be more than a little fatigued.
“It’s time the discussion over injuries turned to the one area that can be controlled and it’s clear that whoever is in control of the cricket calendar has little regard for player wellbeing and performance.
“Who is actually in charge of scheduling? What are their credentials and why do they continually schedule close ODI matches and back-to-back Tests when the medical evidence points to an increased risk of injury and performance?”
According to Campbell, Cricket Australia’s statistics show that the risk of injury rises up to 87 per cent when players are involved in back-to-back Tests. His time with CA finished in 2005, but even back then he presented research on the detrimental effects of jet lag on performance and recovery.
From this, a potential solution emerges. If you schedule less matches will adequate recovery time in between, you will not need to rotate players as much. That way, the public will also be guaranteed the best team possible.
With less matches on the schedule and the best team on the park, it stands to reason that each fixture will be that bit more significant. It also seems logical that fans will not be as less jaded than they obviously have been with this summer’s 10 ODIs. Surely full houses at three to five ODIs is better than well-below average crowds across 10.
It would also mean that the international players would be available for the Big Bash, making those matches more attractive. Furthermore, the Big Bash could be held back until January, so the Sheffield Shield would be active will the Test series are being played.
The intricacies of fixture scheduling are undoubtedly complex and there may be many valid reasons why the above is impossible. But, given the current state of affairs, it is certainly not a ridiculous suggestion.
Not as ridiculous as two Australian teams playing on the same day, anyway.