One thing that has always frustrated me with the scheduling of cricket in Australia is that when the Australian side are playing Tests, the domestic sides are playing T20s.
You don’t have to be a cricketing expert to know that Test cricket and 20-over cricket are polar opposites on the spectrum of the way the game is played.
For years, the Big Bash League has had a stranglehold on domestic cricket during December and January, while the first-class Sheffield Shield is left with one month between October and November, and then two months after the international fixtures have completed.
The main reason that the BBL gets the summer timeframe is the marketability of having cricket for families to attend for a few hours during school holidays. Now, this does make sense as the BBL does generate large crowds across the country.
However, drawing families shouldn’t overrule what’s best for cricket in Australia.
This year’s Shield final saw over 10,000 people in attendance across less than three and a half days of cricket at Allan Border Field, with hundreds of fans being turned away after the home of Queensland Cricket reached its maximum capacity on day two.
What makes this more impressive is that the people in attendance were the demographic that Cricket Australia seems to think are only interested in short-form cricket. Throughout the entire complex there were families with young children enjoying the most prestigious form of the game.
Allan Border Field was swept with big crowds from only a few days of promotion in the media. The first news story I saw was on the eve of the final.
If Cricket Australia were to put as much effort into marketing the Sheffield Shield as they did for the Big Bash, then we might be able to have an extra round or two of Shield fixtures before Christmas. Then have the BBL take over for the remainder of the school holiday period.
What this would do is allow our Test team to be selecting players who are in form and playing well in red-ball cricket. It would also mean that players who do get dropped, such as Travis Head or Joe Burns, would be able to go back into their Shield side and get some runs under their belt to make a claim for upcoming Tests.
In Joe Burns’ specific case this year, he was dropped from the Test arena and instead was left to play T20s, virtually ending any chance of him earning a recall for the remainder of the summer.
And it’s not just the batsmen that this would benefit.
The bowling line-up for Australia has usually been an area that we pride ourselves on.
For years, we have always had one of, if not the best bowling attacks in the world. The Test series against India was a stark contrast to what we were used to seeing, apart from that one session with the ball in Adelaide.
If a bowler is struggling to take wickets and is in a dry spell, instead of being dropped and not playing at all, they could have a game in the Shield to hopefully get some wickets under the belt and confidence back so they can be raring to get at their next opportunity.
It would also allow us to utilise the full strength of our bowlers we have at our disposal. Players like James Pattinson, Michael Neser and Sean Abbott are all quality bowlers who deserve their chance to have a go while our key players are out of form.
The attendance at AB Field proves that fans do enjoy watching the Shield, so Cricket Australia cannot use that as an excuse for ending the first half of the Shield season while families are working, and kids are at school.
With sufficient marketing – to a similar level the Big Bash receives – we could see good-sized crowds attending Shield games in the holidays in the lead-up to Christmas.
It is clear that the current model is not working at Test level when Australia has lost two home series in the last three seasons.