Bear with me, my regular Tuesday rugby readers, for I need to revert back to cricket for a week in honour of a good mate. While Vinay’s passing is still very raw and a shock to most of us, two things have popped up this week that he would be very happy about.
Part 1 – Ponting jumps on the bandwagon
For nearly as long as he’s been on The Roar, Vinay has been telling everyone who’ll listen (and anyone who won’t, for that matter) that the decline in quality of Sheffield Shield cricket is working against the ambitions of the Test team.
If we didn’t believe it way back when, we certainly believed it after a 3-1 Ashes thumping at home.
And now it seems the Australian captain believes it too.
Over the weekend, Ricky Ponting told the Fairfax Press’ Jesse Hogan of his concerns regarding the stepping-stones to the Test team and of his intentions to tell Cricket Australia’s review panel as much.
Ponting made some comments that seem as if he also spent last week reading through The Vinay Verma Anthology.
“The biggest thing I’m worried about is how much of the longer version of cricket kids are playing these days. It’s no coincidence to me that some of the techniques you see in state cricket are nowhere near what they need it to be to play Test cricket. I think the reason for that is they’re not learning the right techniques at the right age. That’s the stuff I’m most excited about, to get into those depths.”
Ponting goes on, “When I started if you weren’t averaging 60 … don’t even bother, go and find another game to play because you were never going to play for Australia.”
Now without blowing my own trumpet, this is exactly what I was talking about in my post Ashes Series column, Fascination with age is hurting Australian cricket.
But where as I said my piece and left it, Vinay kept asking the curly questions that deserved to be asked.
When Cricket Australia’s Mike McKenna penned his second guest column for The Roar about next year’s flash and shiny all-new Big Bash League, Vinay didn’t let the opportunity slip:
“Not only have you devalued the Shield but this has the effect of undermining Australia’s International standing. Attendances rise when the national team is doing well in Tests. The figures for this summer are inflated by the Ashes and next summer it will be because of Tendulkar and Sehwag. It does not mask the slide in Australia’s ranking to 5.
“This slide can be attributed to Cricket Australia’s focus on the [Big Bash]. It can be a result of inferior coaching and an overemphasis on producing short-form short-skill cricketers. More Twenty20 has been scheduled into grade and district competitions. This is not a case of ‘the Big Bash is clearly that product’ but a case of the Big Bash must be that product.
“Mike, the harder task is to make cricket at all levels more ‘compelling’. This means good coaching of the basic skills at junior levels. Not the indiscriminate slog-sweep to cow corner.”
I wrote last week in reply to Kersi’s wonderful tribute, “We cricket writers owe it to Vinay to keep up the pressing lines of questions to people in position,” and this is something I hope to continue doing into the future. Encouragingly though, this barrow becomes infinitely easier to push when the Australian caption also grabs a handle.
The timing of Ponting’s comments couldn’t have been much better, and Vinay can rest easy knowing that he now has the skipper as a disciple.
Part 2 – Kenya and friends prove minnows DO have a place
Ponting’s comments added a tidy third element to what’s become something a personal tribute weekend for Vinay, who as many of you noted last week, became a great mate of mine in a relatively short period of time.
Fresh from donning a black armband in his memory while playing out my last club game on Saturday, on Sunday I gave Vinay something of a liquid send-off during the Australia-Kenya game, in the form of a beer he politely tolerated followed by a beer he quite enjoyed.
As I cracked the Fat Yak Pale Ale, I could still hear Vinay telling me in Brisbane, “I’ll get you another one of those, but I’m switching to something drinkable” and it was almost ironic that Kenya’s best efforts with the ball coincided with me starting the great man’s preferred Stella Artois.
Vinay would have enjoyed Kenya’s early stint in attack. After educing the wild shot from Shane Watson, the Kenyans did a wonderful job of slowing up the Australians, and even pushed Brad Haddin into frustrated slogging at one point.
Ultimately, Australia would get back into their rhythm and post 8/324, and indeed win the game pretty comfortably.
But that early period of bowling from the Kenyans, and most especially their outstanding run-chase, showed why the so-called minnows still have a place at the World Cup: development of the game beyond the entrenched borders.
If the ICC gets their way – or whoever it is lobbying the ICC this time around – Collins Obuya may not get the chance to top his superb unbeaten 98 at the next World Cup.
With moves afoot to trim it back to just 10 teams, Obuya may just have had his career highlight. It’s madness, and worse, it’s counter-productive for the game in these developing countries.
Vinay put it beautifully in what would be his last piece for The Roar: “Ireland with their stirring victory over England has given meaning to the revolution and may they conquer more Goliaths. Cricket has become elitist and is in danger of becoming irrelevant if it does not change tack. It cannot be run as a monopoly for the three or four.
“It must be more inclusive and caring of those not so fortunate.”
Indeed. These debates about the worthiness of the minnows happen at every World Cup, and the truth is plain as day; without the chance to play in these tournaments against the top teams, your Irelands and your Bangladeshs and even your Kenyas and Zimbabwes will never improve if they have nothing to aim for.
Without opportunity and ambition, they will have nothing. The World Cup is their moment in the sun, but it shouldn’t be the end of their cricketing journey. Actually, come to think of it, regular Tuesday rugby readers, this all applies for the Rugby World Cup too.
Bangladesh should be playing more Test cricket. Ireland should be playing some Test cricket. But both, and the associates on display currently, all should be allowed to continue playing World Cups to build cricket in their countries.
They’ve showed with some dazzling wins and some close-run losses that they can compete at the top level.
They now need that extra level of assistance and development to confirm their place at the big boys’ table.
Vinay has the answer, of course, and it happens to wrap up both topics of this column nicely: “…perhaps more needs to be done in fostering talent by giving them an opportunity in grade or district cricket.
The strong nations like Australia, India and England must adopt a global vision in nurturing talent not just in their own backyards but around the world.
“I have long thought a combined New Zealand team in the Shield would lift standards in both countries.
New Zealand continues to produce cricketers like Hamish Bennett and Kane Williamson and guys like these need to play against stronger opposition to develop. Our own Shield is diluted so having a composite New Zealand team would help both countries.”
As usual, mate, you were right. On both fronts.