‘That is a real mental error!’
In an interview with The Roar, former Australian fast bowler Damien Fleming said that first taste of cricket is crucial in forging the hearts and minds of youngsters.
“I wanted to be Dennis Lillee. So the first day of cricket for me was when Lillee broke the Test match record, beat Lance Gibbs’ 307 Test wickets and it was just amazing because Dennis was like a superhero to me,” the Milo In2Cricket ambassador says.
These days, kids have the swashbuckling heroics of David Warner, Chris Lynn and Meg Lanning to look up to and it’s estimated that 700,000 juniors gave cricket a go last year through the successful Milo program which has been running for the past 25 years.
The prevalence of Twenty20 on the domestic calendar has had plenty of critics but there’s no doubt it’s encouraged more families to attend and boosted the popularity of cricket in Australia.
When one-day cricket and coloured clothing arrived it was seen as the death of Test cricket. The two formats co-existed and Fleming sees no reason why all three formats can’t co-exist in the 21st century.
“We’re lucky enough to have these three formats that can fit any type of personality or lifestyle. And surely if half those under-18 boys do okay, they’ll end up playing senior cricket won’t they? They will because they’re doing well at something, they’re enjoying it, so why not keep pursuing it?”
Fleming’s view is that Big Bash cricket is still cricket.
His point is that it doesn’t matter if kids are only interested in that format; the longer they’re inspired and engaged in the sport the more likely they are to naturally merge into the longer formats of the game.
As a coach of an under-16s side, the former swing bowler knows how difficult it is to keep teenagers interested, but he has a possible solution.
“Big drop off at under-16 level. Why can’t we have under-18 competitions? Can it be just on a Thursday night and the weekend’s free for these guys?” Fleming says.
“You see a lot of veterans cricket on Sunday afternoon. So we need to be there to cater for all needs in this modern age. A lot of people don’t have time for the longer formats. So we’ve got T20 to play.”
In the same way the Last Man Stands concept has given senior cricketers the chance to still play without committing to a full day in the field, Milo’s T20 Blast competition is giving kids a chance to experience bowling, batting and fielding in just 90 minutes of game time.
The other upside of the Twenty20 revolution is that the next crop of bowlers will have to come up with new ways to curtail batsmen trying to hit sixes at will.
While most former fast bowlers seem grateful they retired before Twenty20 became a thing, Fleming seemed disappointed that he missed out – and not just because of the money involved!
“I think I would have adapted okay because I generally bowled at the start and at the end of 50-over cricket and, let’s be honest, Twenty20 is just a condensed version of that,” he says.
It’s hard to argue with a guy who put a stop to the sheer brutality of South African all-rounder Lance Klusner in the famous 1999 World Cup semi-final.
We’ll have more from Damien Fleming in the coming weeks as we count down to a huge summer of cricket on The Roar.