Australian Rules football was invented to keep cricketers fit over the winter months and for many years it did just that in the southern states. There were many very fine cricketers in Victoria that played footy at a good level.
But then money happened to footy. And then footy ravaged basketball, cricket and many other sports in Victoria.
The AFL has an excellent talent identification scheme and they provide an excellent path for young players to earn more money than they are ready for.
Most of us know that David Hookes said that the paper bag that contained the New South Wales representative cap also contained a baggy green.
For many Victorians that was giving voice to something they had felt for the past 15 years, that selection in the Australian team was biased towards NSW players.
My hypothesis is that only a small percentage of the best available Victorian talent is making it through to the state cricket squad. Further to that, for whatever reason, I think that the Victorian system has not nurtured those players appropriately.
As I understand, Hookes may have denied Victorian Michael Klinger some opportunities. Klinger lost his best chance because he didn’t play enough games (and therefore get enough runs) at the right time.
Perhaps Hookes could (and should) have spent more time helping Klinger to overcome his supposed weaknesses. And maybe he did so, but it doesn’t seem that way from the outside.
What I do know is that in the past 15 years there have only been a handful of Vics who were earmarked for greater honours and to discard one of only a handful seems terribly wasteful.
But what about Brad Hodge? What about Siddons, Elliott or Berry? I could could on forever.
Then there’s the bowlers; I’d argue that this trend actually affects them (especially fast bowlers) more than any other cricketer because they have an AFL body type: tall, wiry and athletic (Siddle being an exception).
The AFL is culpable for the relative lack of Victorian wearers of the baggy green. Australian cricket needs many more players putting pressure on the privileged few for a place in the Aussie team and state cricket needs the same from grade cricketers.
Shut your eyes and imagine Aussie cricket in an alternative universe where Shane Warne was just a little better at footy. One of the best players ever to play cricket gone, and for what? A four or five-year career as a bit part St Kilda player.
I’d go so far as to argue that pretty much all of the current Bushrangers side would be struggling to make the Vic seconds if AFL did not take the talent.
Recently I was told that of the 80-odd kids that started playing junior cricket with an acquaintance’s son, only three are still playing at the age of 18.
I understand that cricket is a sport that requires a large time commitment and that no matter how good you are, one good ball (or bad shot) is all it takes for you to be watching a great game from the boundary.
I’ve played enough to know that the game is cruel in that way, but is also rewarding because success is so challenging. But in many other sports one mistake doesn’t put you out of the game. In an era of instant gratification that counts against cricket.
At another club I know that there are several players still in their late 30s playing in the first team. And I don’t think it’s solely a case of selection preference.
There are not enough juniors coming through. Parents are time poor and after spending winter months at Auskick clinics don’t want to take their kids to cricket too.
In playgrounds in Victoria many kids play footy, even in summer. Maybe it’s the same in NSW and Queensland with rugby, but I wouldn’t know.
In spite of good results over the past five years (two shield, one one day and three T20 titles) cricket in Victoria is in trouble.
I don’t have hard and fast statistics or mountains of evidence, it’s just a nagging itch. No news there, I hear you say – but there is, because what the AFL has done to cricket here is coming to NSW and Queensland.
Additionally, the AFL can offer reasonable remuneration to over 600 players in any one year (and then there’s the next tier such as the VFL which can also offer some money).
Cricket would find it hard to offer decent money to more than a third of that number. The best cricketers are very well paid; they play a global game and have better endorsement opportunities. They arguably finish their career with a much more intact body as well.
But it’s hard to sell that to an 18 year old who thinks he’s invincible. Good on the AFL, they are doing what they need to do to grow their business.
This is something Cricket Australia and the state associations have to think about. If they don’t, England may win the next five Ashes series and that would be a tragedy worse than Collingwood winning the next five AFL premierships.