Is the Big Bash League to blame for our Test plight?
Sydney Thunders' David Warner celebrates his century during their Big Bash League match against the Melbourne Stars at the MCG (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)
Timing is everything in cricket and the big wigs at Cricket Australia have displayed that theirs is no better than their stuttering top order.
As if to try and deflect from the current ineptitude of our Test team, CA decided to come out all guns blazing and announce to the cricket world in the wake of a massive loss at Lord’s that never fear, this season’s third edition of the Big Bash League will be bigger and better!
Surprisingly, the announcement of an extended Big Bash League tournament has met with an array of attacking strokes from cricket fans, media and former players.
One only just former player, Ricky Ponting has aired his views in his Daily Mail column in England, saying that “we must remember that the strength of this business will be measured by the success of the national team”.
The use of the word ‘business’ is an interesting one.
While many of us play a game of cricket on weekends, like all sports, at the pointy end nowadays it is not a game but a business, as Ponting has alluded.
And therein lays a conundrum for CA.
Let’s for a moment forget that the product is cricket and assume it is some other commodity.
In business there are two fairly common tenets – provide something the client wants and in return, by doing so, you reap a financial benefit.
As far as CA is concerned there is no arguing that the Big Bash League is providing both.
And when it comes to the former – providing something the client wants – the numerical data is unimpeachable.
Yes, this summer – despite the Test team’s parlous form – Ashes tickets will go fast.
In fact, they already have when you look at the latest update on CA’s website.
But, the following summer will see just four Tests played against India.
The back-half of the summer will be taken up by the 50-over World Cup, a form of the game that many fans see as being on life support.
Then in the 2015-16 season it is twin Test series against New Zealand and West Indies which will play to less than half-filled stadia for the bulk of those matches.
Ashes summers are CA’s cash cows.
India, in recent times, has become their next best money-spinner although there is no escaping the Sachin Tendulkar factor which we will never experience again.
As for the remainder of the Test series that are played here, none really have the turnstiles ticking over at any great pace.
As a purely money making exercise – Network Ten has recently massively upped the TV worth – and as a bums on seats exercise, the Big Bash League has done exactly what CA wanted.
There is no mistaking that Twenty20 cricket has introduced a vast new audience to the sport.
Traditionalists can vent their spleen all they like but that is a fact.
So, in a business sense, CA has achieved the basics that many companies strive for – a broader clientele and increased revenue stream.
And as much as myself, and dare I say it, the vast majority of Roar readers pay little credence to the Big Bash League a helluva lot of fans do – they turn up in droves and TV networks are willing to pay increasingly big bucks for the right to air it.
We traditionalists can dislike, even loathe it, as much as we want, but from a business model point of view it is successful and will not be disappearing anytime soon.
However, like any business, can it be done in an even better sense so that all the clientele across the sport’s spectrum can feel a greater sense of satisfaction?
It does not take an overly-educated cricket brain to deduce the major problem with the current Test squad.
If you can read a scorecard it jumps off the page at you – our batsmen cannot make runs.
‘It’s that bloody Twenty20 rubbish that is to blame!’ I see you say in chorus.
Has it not caused the basic batting principles required for Test cricket to become a thing of the past with ingredients such as patience, building an innings, a technique based firstly around defence and the ability to judiciously accumulate runs rather than smack the ball having all gone out the window?
If that’s the case, and given other countries also have substantial commitments to Twenty20 cricket how come our batting stocks are going south quicker than others?
How come India, the hotbed of Twenty20 cricket worldwide, thumped us to the tune of a historic 4-0 whitewash in March?
Two recent Australian nemeses – Joe Root and Faf du Plessis – seemed to be able to cope OK with being raised in the Twenty20 era.
Currently, right smack bang in the middle of an Ashes series, England counties are playing their annual Friends Life T20 series – yes OK, it’s not quite as sexy sounding as the Big Bash League.
The England Twenty20 tournament started on 26 June with the final on 17 August with a total of 97 games scheduled.
During the duration of the Twenty20 series the first-class cricket fixtures are reduced but not greatly.
In Australia they are put on long-service leave.
When the Big Bash League starts, domestic first-class cricket is locked in the closet and the door is barricaded.
This summer, the Big Bash League is slated to run from 20 December to 15 February, which will see a hiatus in red ball cricket at domestic first-class level for virtually the entirety.
The first Test against South Africa – the world number one – at Centurion begins on 12 February.
Good luck being a selector for you are picking players from outside the Test team to make up the touring party from a group of players who have not been in creams for the preceding two months!
Pretty hard to get a form line wouldn’t you think?
For mine, that is one of the major concerns about a two-month block of Big Bash League.
There must be a better way of fixturing the summer and I believe there is, but given the recently signed TV rights deal with Network Ten that runs for the next five years, not much can change immediately.
But here is an idea.
I can remember broadcasting for the ABC the first domestic Twenty20 match played at the WACA Ground on 12 January 2005.
That night the largest crowd seen at the ground for quite some time numbered 20,700.
There were no flashy imports, just home grown players representing their first-class states.
The fans were not turning out to watch the likes of Chris Gayle, Shahid Afridi or Herschelle Gibbs.
Do we need the internationals to maintain an audience or will fans still be content with watching local talent lather the ball around the park?
If you do not conscript international players to the Big Bash League there is no need to run the tournament in one continuous block.
It can be played in segments throughout the season which would also allow for a greater probability that our Test players would be more readily available.
And, importantly, allow for a greater continuity of white-ball cricket.
Players could still be contracted to franchises as they are now – it would be no different to State of Origin in the NRL where one week you are playing with someone and the next week against.
The current eight-plus week hiatus in first-class domestic fixtures is not good for the development of the sport.
But it is not only one issue that has led to Australia’s decline at Test level with the likes of grade cricket standards and the love affair with ‘development pathways’ through elite squads that has such an effect on it also central to our national drop in standard.
By purely putting the dollar first CA has in a large way further marginalised Test and first-class cricket.
It should not have, as there were alternatives, but for the next five years it is something it has to manage.
And let’s hope that in the meantime the standard of our Test squad does not descend any lower.
Otherwise, the Big Bash League will grow at the expense of the sport’s marquee event – Test cricket.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.