The baggy green, as we all know, is Australian cricket’s pride and joy, the cap that every Aussie cricketer young and old craves to own.
To receive one of these caps on the first morning of a Test is the ultimate sign that you have made it as a cricketer in Australia. Unfortunately, it is not what it once was.
Let’s go back 15-20 years. Our Test team is the best in the world with legends such as Matt Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, the Waugh twins, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath dominating the game.
The team is probably the hardest to make, with many First-Class greats left stranded in the Sheffield Shield wilderness, unable to have a proper shot at cracking the side.
This all changed in 2007, the end of an era, where by this stage Langer, the Waugh twins, Warne and McGrath had retired – and by 2009 so had Hayden and Gilchrist.
Once these greats of the game stepped out of the way, Australian cricket panicked and went through multiple players to find the next batch of legends, with multiple players only given a series or even one game to prove their worth at the highest and most difficult level of the game only to be discarded into the wilderness.
If we have a look at every single Australian to be given the baggy green, the number currently being 456, we can see evidence of this panic.
Since 2008, where baggy green 399 was given to Chris Rogers, 58 cricketers have played Test cricket for Australia, 23 of which (excluding Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne) played less than five games.
If we go between 1998-2007 on the other hand, when Australian Test cricket was in its prime, only 25 cricketers were given the honour of representing the team, eight of which played less than five games.
While this significant increase in Australian Test cricketers can be attributed to a decrease in the quality of cricketers coming through the ranks, it can also be attributed to another factor – the selectors’ inability to pick the players and stick with them.
Instead, they give them a small number of games to prove their worth and then discarding them for the next potentially great cricketer.
Some of these cricketers however should not have been given the honour to wear the baggy green in the first place, such as Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer.
This also indicated the decrease of value that Australian cricket places in our special cap, instead of giving it to only the best cricketers in the country, they hand them to those that had the potential to be great and inevitably or even those who were undeserving of receiving the baggy green.
How can this problem be solved though? How can we reclaim the baggy greens’ lost aura? The same way we avoided the problem for ten years, by picking and sticking with players instead of giving them a limited shot before being discarded.
Matthew Hayden is a prime example of this as before his career-changing 2001 series in India, he was struggling to hold down a place in the Test side, never being given a real shot at securing his spot in the previous six years.
Once he was given a real opportunity at the top of the order in 2001, he became arguably our greatest Test opener and formed a formidable partnership with Justin Langer until 2007.
Australian cricket however has not learned the lesson and has continued to do the same thing to players time and time again over the past ten years, with cricketers such as Phil Hughes, Joe Burns and Matthew Renshaw having suffered or are still suffering the same fate.
Joe Burns. (AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN)
If given a proper chance to cement their place in the Test side, they could potentially become greats of the game. As we all know however, this chance never came for Hughes, who could’ve been one of our greatest Test cricketers if his excellent First-Class record was anything to go by.
Ultimately, by picking and sticking with cricketers instead of giving them a limited, less players would be needlessly given the baggy green and only our best cricketers would be given the honour of donning our prestigious cap, restoring its aura for future generations to come.
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