Australia may have retained the Ashes urn, but it was far from a perfect series and the selectors must look to make changes ahead of the Test summer.
“The World Cup is done and dusted, which means we can go back to not caring about ODI cricket until the next World Cup.”
This quote from a Roar article (thanks Stephen V) summed up perfectly the way cricket is now regarded in Australia.
ODI cricket will only be a series of meaningless matches for another three years until the next World Cup swings around, when Cricket Australia will go hell-for-leather putting together a squad.
Much the same has happened with international T20 cricket. This form of the game has taken a clear back seat, but the World Cup is only a bit over 14 months away. No doubt CA will employ a similar practice of waiting until the last moment then putting a team together and hoping for the best.
But is this the best way to go and are we making best use of the opportunities to manage all three formats Australia can offer?
Australian cricket is not blessed with lots of outstanding players as we were a generation ago and this is reflected in our ICC rankings, where we sit fourth in all three formats.
What we do have in abundance are some excellent cricket minds and a fantastic cricket resource that’s barely been tapped – summer time in northern Australia, also known as the dry season.
Each format of the game needs to be effectively managed, rather than the “she’ll be right, mate” approach currently being used.
Each format needs a national coach responsible for ensuring player talent is identified for each format and those players receive coaching and support to bring them to international standard, Australia has a competitive side in all three formats, with the ultimate aim of being No.1 in each format in the ICC rankings, and players considered capable of making a transition from one format to another at international level are given opportunities to learn about the new format, then play, but only if results justify their selection.
Guys like Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting and Jason Gillespie all spring to mind and each could comfortably manage one of these formats.
They would identify players best suited to one format and would also agree on a pool of players who might be able to cross over from one format to another. They would then work with these players to develop their skills, both in the traditional Australian cricket summer as well as in the Australian winter.
Australian cricket has only recently discovered what grey nomads have known for decades: the weather in the north of Australia is magnificent from April through to the end of August.
Day-time maximums in the high 20s to low 30s are the norm, and when combined with some excellent facilities, makes this part of the country an ideal place to bring players to develop their skills. However, the tropics have only been used for the odd Test and a few practice squads.
Cricket Australia needs to establish a small base of operations in Darwin where facilities are first-class standard. Each southern winter, they should bring a squad of ODI players for camps that last two to four weeks.
The dates for these visits should roughly coincide with the start of the domestic 50-over tournament so these players are set to go in September, thus making that series more meaningful.
Internationals could also be played and at that time of year and would attract very healthy crowds because Darwin people love their sport.
In terms of the T20 World Cup, which starts on October 8 next year, a two-month camp including internationals could be staged out of Darwin from July, as well as including games in Alice Springs and Cairns, assuming the pitches were up to standard.
This would give the Aussie squad a massive advantage because the alternative would be to travel overseas to do exactly the same thing, but without the ability to control conditions and facilities.
What about the next Ashes in Australia in 2021? Get 24 players together, as CA did for the current tour, base them in Darwin in August and give them four weeks to display their credentials.
The presence of so many good cricketers in a small place like Darwin would also visibly raise the prominence of the sport in the north and would bring in much-needed dollars to a sagging economy.
Cricket in Australia can and should be a year-round sport, if managed properly. We currently under-utilise the guys who could easily raise our cricketing stocks in all three formats and we hardly use an outstanding natural feature – the northern dry season – which would help make Aussie cricket better.