The Bengal cricket team, with its base at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta, represents the West Bengal state in India’s Ranji Trophy.
One of the factors that drove the Bollyline furore was a feeling that the Australian cricket side should be representative of Australian society.
I stand by my conviction that this is poppycock. But rather than return to this debate, I think we would all prefer just to let the Indians go home (and congratulations to them for a deserved victory).
In my opinion a more reasonable question to ask is whether the current Australian cricket team represents Australian domestic cricket. In exploring this issue, a good place to start is to look at state-by-state representation in the Australian test and ODI sides:
• No Victorian in either side now that Shane Warne has retired.
• No South Australian in either side now that Shaun Tait is on indefinite leave.
• Ricky Ponting is the only player from the Apple Isle, and he is barely a Tasmanian these days: he hardly ever plays for them, and he lives there no longer.
• Perhaps most remarkably, only one West Australian remains from a team that just a year ago had an almost West Australian batting line-up: Langer, Martyn, Hussey and Gilchrist, to which the spin of Brad Hogg was added for ODIs.
So as of the moment James Hopes was dismissed on Tuesday night, ending the careers of Gilchrist and Hogg, the Australian team became a composite NSW-Qld lineup with a West Australian choir-master (Mr Cricket is the official leader of the singing of the victory song, not that his vocal chords have been getting much work lately!). This is almost like days of yesteryear when the Australian team was a composite NSW-Vic lineup.
Further, it is mostly NSW and Qld players who figure in murmurings about those who are next in line, with names like Haddin, Katich, Bollinger (all NSW), Noffke and Watson (Qld) being prominent.
If we look at Australian domestic cricket, do we find that NSW-Qld hegemony is justified? The answer, obviously, is no.
In a general sense what characterizes Australian domestic cricket is a tremendously even competition that is a consequence of a tremendously even spread of talent (one that occurs, incidentally, without any salary caps or drafts, those blunt instruments beloved of Australian and American sporting administrators).
The only exception to this is South Australia, whose predicament is much the same as that of Queensland in rugby: despite having decent teams on paper, for years now they have been basket cases on the field.
In a specific sense the answer is even more damning, in that Tasmania and Victoria have dominated domestic one-day and T20 competitions over recent years: Tasmania has won 2 out of the last 4 one-day titles, while Victoria has been in the last 2 one-day finals and has won all 3 T20 competitions that have been held.
In the Pura Cup things have been more spread around, with the last 4 years having seen Tas, NSW, Qld and Vic win a title apiece, while each of these teams except for Tas has also been a losing finalist over the same period.
One should also not forget about WA, who have the strongest batting lineup in domestic cricket (Langer, Rogers, Marsh, North, Voges, Pomersbach, Ronchi) but have not been able to deliver on their potential, possibly due to having a home wicket that has radically changed character: one might say that the WACA pitch has gone from being Wimbledon grass to Roland Garros clay, an obvious problem for those who have grown up on it.
Of course the regular – but not constant! – absence of Australian players from domestic matches makes it difficult to go on results alone, because one can’t say what would have happened if NSW and Qld had had their Australian stars at all times.
Nevertheless the case for more geographic diversity in Australian teams seems undeniable, especially in ODI and T20I cricket, where the successes of Victoria and Tasmania cannot be dismissed as random occurrences; rather, there must be some exceptional cricketers driving them.
The most obvious – and probably most deserving – player in this regard is David Hussey. All the form lines, including the price he commanded for the Indian Premier League, suggest that he is a formidable cricketer at the peak of his powers. He should be given a place in the Australian ODI side before it is too late.
How to do this given that none of Hayden, Ponting, Clarke, Symonds and “Big” Mr Cricket are expendable? The most obvious solution is to play 7 batsmen and rely on some combination of D Hussey, Clarke and Symonds to bowl a minimum of 10 overs. This is what India did for a lot of the CB series, although I personally think this is an unbalanced composition.
A more radical suggestion is to replace Gilchrist not with Haddin but with D Hussey, with someone like Mike Hussey taking over the gloves. Haddin has an outstanding domestic record, but he has played nearly 30 ODIs now, and yet he still looks like he just doesn’t belong.
Contrast his awkwardness at the crease over the recent series with how at home the young Indian bowlers Praveen Kumar (21 years old) and Piyush Chawla (19) looked when brought in for their first matches against Australia. Haddin’s statistics may be excellent, but if looks so far are anything to go by, then he’s going to be a painful replacement for Gilchrist.
Speaking of Kumar, the damage he did with his swing bowling should surely have the selectors thinking about introducing Ben Hilfenhaus, the closest equivalent in Australian domestic cricket.
As for replacing Hogg, he may have suggested Dan Cullen and Nathan Hauritz, but they are both finger spingers, and the last two decades have shown that the Australian selectors will always prefer a wrist spinner if possible, and indeed they have good reason for this preference.
Bryce McGain may be 35, but he bowls accurate leg-spin, he was the leading bowler in the Ford Ranger Cup this year, and he is by streets the form spinner in Australian domestic cricket. He should replace Hogg. He can create wickets; the containment approach offered by others is not Australia’s style.
For T20I cricket, Luke Ronchi and his flashing blade might be given a chance with the keeping gloves.
If James Hopes is injured, AB McDonald might be given a go.
These then are some names from outside NSW and Qld that might be considered for now, while in future years players like Shaun Marsh, George Bailey and Peter Siddle should come into reckoning (and who knows with Cameron White).
Of course this is not a call for all these players to be promoted. However there seems to be a need for some change, and these are some possibilities.
Above all what the Australian selectors need to ponder is how to keep their teams fresh. It seems no coincidence that Australia’s ODI batting has often been flat since Andrew Symonds was promoted to the test side, thus rendering the ODI batting lineup full of test players.
Previously Symonds not only scored ODI runs, but he injected freshness into an often weary batting lineup. Going on the cricket of this summer, someone like David Hussey is needed to become a new Andrew Symonds in this respect.