Is the Big Bash League to blame for our Test plight?

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Channel 10's Big Bash coverage has struck the right balance. (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

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    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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (78)

    • July 24th 2013 @ 10:30am
      Steve said | July 24th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      Wickets are the problem. People lament flat tracks and boring draws in first class cricket and to a certain this ultimately does not provide a good base for future test cricketers, however the same can be said for seam friendly tracks whereby 4 day games last 9-10 sessions. One thing that can’t be forgotten is the fact that flat wickets are not always bad because they give a batsman the opportunity to bat for long periods. Whilst the wicket may be flat and batsman friendly a certain amount of application, concentration and shot making and shot selection is required for an individual
      to bat for 4 sessions and make 200-250. Shield wickets rarely provide this opportunity. The seaming tracks prepared over the last couple of seasons also mean that
      1. Spinners rarely play a role in the first innings
      2. Spinners get less of a chance to play a role on day 4
      3. As a result of points 1&2 batsman don’t get to face spin bowling in a variety of conditions.
      4. Bowlers don’t learn to bowl in varying situations, i.e learning how to bowl when the opposition is 3/300

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • Columnist

        July 24th 2013 @ 10:45am
        Glenn Mitchell said | July 24th 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

        All very silent points Steve and they underline the fact that this automatic fall back to blaming T20 cricket as the base of all our problems holds very little water.

        • July 24th 2013 @ 10:48am
          Nathan of Perth said | July 24th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

          “All very silent points”

          Auto-correct strikes again?

          • Columnist

            July 24th 2013 @ 11:10am
            Glenn Mitchell said | July 24th 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            Indeed – I was not trying to stay silent on the salient points. Quite the opposite in fact. Good pick-up.

            • July 24th 2013 @ 6:20pm
              harry said | July 24th 2013 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

              One thing Australia have to be aware of, all the ‘stars’ in 20/20 cricket have generally made their name playing test cricket and have become household names because of it. With the demise of the longer form of the game in Australia they are going to lose their cricketing stars whose names are known worldwide and this will lessen the pull of going to 20/20 games in the future.

        • July 24th 2013 @ 2:34pm
          Tenash said | July 24th 2013 @ 2:34pm | ! Report

          Great stuff Glenn !!

          now this is what you call an excellent article from an actual ***EXPERT*** , not the other B.S on this forum.

          go on have a read of some of the other articles.i don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading them. sigh !!

          this is how you write a proper article.even though Glenn doesn’t like ( hates ? ) T20 & BBL, he can still write a balanced article with facts which point out that T20 is here to stay.

          now only if he (or anyone ?) could just come up with some great scheduling ideas……

          • July 24th 2013 @ 2:57pm
            Bobo said | July 24th 2013 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            Drop List A 50 over stuff completely. Either Put BBL in mid-February to mid-March or intersperse it throughout the season. Schedule the Shield games around the Test fixtures so the Test team competes in the Shield.

            How did I do?

            • July 24th 2013 @ 3:12pm
              Tenash said | July 24th 2013 @ 3:12pm | ! Report

              well dropping dom one dayers might be impossible unless the ICC scraps ODI’s themselves.

              re BBL, the last test of the summer finishes in the 1st week of Jan.
              so personally i would love to see the BBL taking over after that through Jan, Feb and March

        • July 24th 2013 @ 8:56pm
          twodogs said | July 24th 2013 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

          Gday Glenn. Great read yet again. Be nice if Jim Maxwell can write a column also though, geez he’s great to listen to on ABC. How do you lessen the value of a commodity? Oversupply or under demand. At times under demand is a result of poor quality and/or oversaturation. Oversupply may then be a result this or the brazen expectations of hierarchy. Three formats of cricket in our limited populace cannot ever be viable over time. One, or two, will die. Sadly, due to the incapacity of the younger generations to be patient in witnessing the outcome of an event, we have test cricket in its death throws. For those reading this take a look a crowd numbers the world over in recent times. Yeah, you should be shocked. In fact, find that the healthy crowd numbers in England for the last two games is really an aberration. Test cricket is not healthy and the ashes should never alone be the mainstay of our treasured test cricket. Therfore I suggest to the authorities- if you must destroy 50/50 cricket, please mutilate 20/20 also and create a 30/30 format for 20/20 is way too short and 50/50 obviously too long these days. If the present formats are to exist, then my ideal is that if you play 20/20 and 50/50, you cannot play test cricket. If you play 50/50 and test cricket, you cannot play 20/20. Within this playing roster there still exists the opportunity for players to be selected for ‘higher honors’ being test cricket and50/50. There must be a decree signed by all to preserve test cricket and actively promote same, workd over. This is twodogs reporting from the bathtub, where I get my ideas from.

      • July 24th 2013 @ 10:48am
        Brian said | July 24th 2013 @ 10:48am | ! Report

        The Shield points system is an issue 6 points for a win and 2 for first innings points. It worked well when we were on top of the world constantly striving for declarations and results. Provides no incentives for flat pitches and batsman who know how to bat for draws.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 24th 2013 @ 10:38am
      josh said | July 24th 2013 @ 10:38am | ! Report


    • Roar Guru

      July 24th 2013 @ 11:11am
      Simon said | July 24th 2013 @ 11:11am | ! Report

      Nice read as always, Glenn.

      Your idea about having the Big Bash throughout the summer rather than just one ridiculously large block is a good one, but as you state, it will never work because the fans want to see the big international fans. You cite the WACA crowd in 2005, but surely a large portion of that crowd were there for the novelty of it being the first T20 match in Perth.

      The franchises will only make money if the fans turn up, and the fans won’t turn up if the international stars aren’t there. A time-slot for the competition is the only way to ensure the stars turn up, unless they can be signed on a 1 or 2 week basis only – which is an idea in itself. Alex Hales can play for two weeks, then he leaves for an England tour of South Africa. He is then replaced by Umar Akmal.. you get the drift?

    • July 24th 2013 @ 11:35am
      John said | July 24th 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      Put simply, without doubt. Money hungry CA are now paying the ultimate price! Maybe we should pick 2 separate squads, one for proper test players and one for short format T20/OD’s to avoid any issue. Plenty of players would fit the relevant criteria for each.

    • July 24th 2013 @ 11:40am
      James P said | July 24th 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report

      There are 2 ways of having it as a successful tournament without impacting the other forms of cricket significantly. These are the Indian way and the English way. The Indian way is to have different squads between the 2020 and first class tournaments but in India the IPL is well after the Ranji trophy so that it doesn’t split up the season. The English way is to have the same squads for 2020 and first class and have the matches throughout the season.

      • July 24th 2013 @ 12:01pm
        Nudge said | July 24th 2013 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        As pointed out Glenn it’s not the big bash that is the problem it’s the scheduling. And it can’t be that hard. Another example is that Australia are playing 7 one day matches in about 20 days in India which concludes I think the 3rd of November, 18 days before the first test. What a joke. How will Micheal clarkes back be after that. What’s better for Phil Hughes pressing his claims for that test, 4 or 5 shield games or 7 one day games and same can be said about starc and others. So we are going into an ashes series coming off 7 one day games in 40 degree heat wickets that will not bounce higher then waist height and will turn square. Throw in a quick shield game then race to the gabba and have the ball searing around our throats. Ludicrous. To make it worse England will arrive in Australia for the ashes before we do.

    • July 24th 2013 @ 12:11pm
      cantab said | July 24th 2013 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

      yeah I always laugh at the idea that the demise of the Australian test team is due to 20/20 cricket. All countries play 20/20 and some take it much more seriously than Australia. England doesn’t even have domestic 50 over cricket any more!

      The best thing about 20/20 cricket is that its going to greatly increase the number of professional players worldwide and thus increasing the talent pool to pick from. Its great for NZ, we might have more than 20 fully professional players in the country one day!

      • July 24th 2013 @ 12:20pm
        Julian said | July 24th 2013 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

        Great professional NZ cricketers like Luke Ronchi!

        • July 24th 2013 @ 2:05pm
          Cantab said | July 24th 2013 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

          Nope, he missed out in a cricket nz contract, so he will need a winter job to pay the bills, he could try selling cars like Craig Mccmillan did.

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