Warmup matches for touring Test sides in Australia have become nothing more than glorified centre-wicket practice. If that somehow wasn’t apparent before this cricket season, there is no longer any room for doubt.
The Cricket Australia XI squad currently taking on India at the SCG is as follows;
|Player||No. of first class matches|
|Sam Whiteman (c)||50|
|Harry Nielsen (wk)||7|
Put bluntly, this lineup is an insult to the touring side, offering precious little in the way of preparation for the upcoming Test series against Australia. Removing the relative experience of Sam Whiteman (who is still making his way back from a career-threatening finger injury) takes the average number of first class matches played down to a measly 2.75.
That Cricket Australia has the temerity to offer up such a green side for India’s only red-ball warm up match is staggering. And yet, the absurd inexperience of this group is completely by design.
CA’s reasoning is simple – it wants India undercooked for its duel with Australia.
It wants to ensure that India’s bowlers come into the first test not having dismissed any of Australia’s best first class batsmen with a red ball.
It wants to deny India’s top order the opportunity to face a local first class bowling attack that comes anywhere near the calibre of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
Sadly, this tactic will surprise few cricket fans.
It is part of a broader development in international cricket whereby touring Test teams are being starved in terms of quantity and quality of warm up matches.
Quantity is affected by scheduling (a discussion for another day) but quality is completely in the hands of the relevant home cricketing body, and Cricket Australia is the clear frontrunner in a race to the bottom.
Although the other members of the ‘big three’, India and England, haven’t exactly been throwing their second XI at touring teams, they still generally serve up some something resembling decent opposition.
In July this year, India prepared for its Test series in England by taking on Division One County side Essex – a match which pitted the tourists against former test players Tom Westley and James Foster.
Less than 18 months earlier in India, the touring Australians faced an India A side featuring the likes of Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya and Shreyas Iyer.
Those who have been following cricket closely for more than the last few years will know that the concept of denying quality practice to sides touring Australia is quite new.
Look up New Zealand’s tour in late 2015 and you’ll find a CA XI that included Cameron Bancroft, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Mitch Marsh, Ashton Agar, Peter Siddle, Jason Behrendorff and Billy Stanlake.
Two years earlier, England played four matches in preparation for the 2013/14 Ashes, including one against an Australia A lineup of Alex Doolan, Michael Klinger, Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques, Tim Paine, Ben Cutting, Trent Copeland and Jon Holland.
How does the current CA XI compare to those sides? Quite clearly, it doesn’t.
This is in no way intended to disparage the individuals selected in the CA XI. On the contrary; many of those picked show genuine potential.
A handful of them have represented Australia at underage level. D’Arcy Short has four One Day Internationals and 18 Twenty20 Internationals under his belt.
For a majority of the players, this will be one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
Being chosen to take on the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin probably seems like a dream come true.
But that just reinforces why an opportunity like this should be earned, rather than being handed out for less-than-noble reasons.
Selection to take on touring sides used to be a genuine privilege. It was seen as an opportunity for players on the cusp of Test selection to push their case, or a moment for first class stalwarts to shine.
The CA XI, in its various guises, has a storied history that is now being tarnished by an unhealthy desire to gain the upper hand.
Whatever happened to the concept of wanting to beat the best team in a fair fight?
In 2018, Cricket Australia’s reputation sunk to a new low.
Rocked by ‘sandpaper-gate’, it handed out lengthy bans to three key players and launched the Longstaff Review into its own conduct in the lead-up to that fiasco.
The resultant report revealed a toxic culture that had been facilitated – encouraged, even – by those in charge.
This year was supposed to be a flash point; an opportunity for Cricket Australia to hit the reset button and rise above the ugly side of cricket.
They could have offered India Joe Mennie, Marnus Labuschagne and Marcus Stoinis.
Instead, amidst shallow platitudes about respect and fairness, Cricket Australia denied those very sentiments to India, all for the sake of manufacturing an artificial advantage.
The national team might be striving to put its most likeable foot forward but, within the walls of Cricket Australia HQ, the win-at-all-costs mentality is clearly proving harder to shake.