Afghanistan’s first Test match in Australia looks to be cancelled again, and this time indefinitely.
With the Taliban’s regime coming to power in Afghanistan recently, there have been grave fears for the future of sport for the nation with women likely to be excluded.
Those fears were realised when Ahmadullah Wasiq, a cultural spokesman for the Taliban cultural commission, confirmed that women will not be allowed to play cricket or any kind of sport where their faces or bodies could be exposed.
Australian Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck has condemned the comments and it appears the Australian government has withdrawn its support for the upcoming match between Australia and the Afghanistan Test side.
Colbeck has made it clear that the final decision would solely be with Cricket Australia and the ICC as the federal government does not control the event.
However he has lobbied the ICC to take a stand against Afghanistan and it appears that Afghanistan’s membership will be a topic of conversation when the ICC next meet.
A notable example of the ICC intervening over human rights violations was the expulsion of South Africa from international competition during apartheid.
The next time the ICC sit will be after the T20 World Cup, so it appears Afghanistan’s involvement in the tournament won’t be affected.
Disgraceful human rights ramifications aside for a moment, part of the requirement for full ICC membership is having a women’s competition.
So even if you could look past those violations, not having women playing is a breach of the ICC’s own regulations, which would mean that Afghanistan is almost certainly going to lose its full ICC membership.
While it is incredibly disappointing for all those involved that the game is set to be cancelled, it is absolutely the right decision.
Excluding people from being able to participate over archaic nonsense cannot be tolerated.
The Test match should not go to waste however. I am a big believer in the only way for the game to grow is to give opportunities to smaller nations to play Test cricket.
And considering that Australia has only played five Test matches in 2021, it really can’t afford to be missing any more games.
I would like to see Ireland extended an opportunity to tour and play the game in Hobart. They don’t appear to have any fixtures scheduled after the current ODI series against Zimbabwe that would clash with the trip to Hobart for the Test.
It remains to be seen whether they would be willing to go through Australia’s exhaustive quarantine procedure for one Test match.
And with the Ashes taking place afterwards and the T20 World Cup beforehand, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for extra fixtures.
Another answer that wouldn’t involve having to get a nation at the last minute to organise a tour and deal with the pressures of quarantine would be to open up the Test to a match between Australia and Australia A.
Australia have not played much red-ball cricket leading up to the Ashes and having an Australia A game could open up the rigours of international red-ball cricket to the next level of players coming through.
Greg Chappell identified that a lack of Australia A games was hurting Australia’s depth strength.
Australian fans were shocked when essentially India’s second XI knocked the Australians off in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy last summer.
But what many may not realise is Mohammed Siraj came into the series with 70 wickets at 21.88 in 16 matches for India A played abroad in South Africa, England, New Zealand and the Caribbean.
And Shubman Gill piled on 870 runs for India A including two overseas double hundreds. They already had plenty of international experience before making their debuts and could almost count themselves veterans.
Australia’s debutants for that series Will Pucovski and Cameron Green had nowhere near the same level of international experience.
Pucovski had an under-19 tour and one Australia A tour to the UK and Green had played a handful of matches in India on a national performance squad in 2018.
India A in fact had played almost three times as many matches as Australia A, 32 matches compared to 12 since 2014-15, the last time Australia has won a series against India.
It’s obvious that more international exposure can only help Australia’s next crop of players better acclimatise to the rigours of Test cricket.
And given that we now are looking at a vacant spot in the calendar, if we can’t fill it with a willing international opponent we would be remiss to not use the opportunity to not only get our Test side some red-ball cricket under cricket under their belt but also help our next crop of Test cricketers.
Here is a proposed XI for an Australia A side that could take part in the fixture in Hobart. With the selection of this side I’ve ruled out players who despite strong domestic seasons aren’t likely to feature for Australia.
Players like Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja weren’t considered as it appears the selectors have moved on.
Likewise Jackson Bird. Despite his 35 wickets at 22, at 34 years of age he isn’t likely to don the baggy green again. I have tried to balance the side on the next logical choices and also an eye to the future.
2020-21 stats: 555 runs at 39.64, three hundreds, one 50
Whiteman has begun to put together an impressive looking resume since dropping the gloves and opening the batting. Previously playing for Australia A in a tour to India as a keeper, the young West Australian has fashioned himself into a stylish opening batsman.
2020-21 stats: 695 runs at 63.18, two hundreds, one 50
After a very impressive start to his Shield season, scoring an impressive 239, Harris set about doing what he has done for a number of years and that’s compile a lot of runs at domestic level. Clearly a talented stroke player, his technique and temperament has been exposed somewhat at international level. Some more experience at the top level could be key to unlocking his potential.
2020-21 stats: 893 runs at 68.89, three hundreds, three 50s
Dumped from the Test side for consistently struggling to convert starts into scores and like Harris having a weakness outside off stump, Head went out and was the second leading run scorer of the Shield competition for a struggling South Australian side. A strong performance could be his ticket back into the baggy green.
Moises Henriques or Alex Carey (captain)
Henriques’ 2020-21 stats: 633 runs at 70.33, three hundreds, two 50s
Carey’s 2020-21 stats: 299 runs at 59.80, one hundred, one 50
My controversial choice, whoever isn’t picked for the Australia A squad I’d have in the vacant number five spot in the Test side. Both players offer a lot of experience. Henriques continues to pile on the runs in the NSW top order while Carey didn’t get as many games due to international duties in the white-ball side. Carey has shown great ability in the ODI game to score tough runs in the middle order and could be a valuable addition to either this side or the Test side. Both players were selected in the squad for the abandoned South Africa tour, showing they are very much on Justin Langer’s radar.
2020-21 stats: 500 runs at 62.5, two hundreds
After a brief but somewhat successful stint as an Australian opener, Renshaw lost his spot to Cameron Bancroft. He then went through quite a drought for Queensland, however this season the 25-year-old moved himself to the middle order and revitalised his domestic career. With international experience under his belt and a long promising future ahead, an Australia A berth could be a perfect opportunity to thrust himself back into the selectors’ thoughts.
Josh Inglis (wicketkeeper)
2020-21 stats: 585 runs at 73.12, three hundreds, two 50s
Personally I think that Inglis should be the next keeper for Australia. He has fashioned himself into an excellent batsman in all three formats domestically but his Shield season really stood out. Scoring his runs at a strike rate of 85, fans could be forgiven for seeing plenty of Adam Gilchrist in the young West Australian. George Bailey has selected him in the upcoming T20 World Cup and a strong performance around the squad coupled with his impressive Shield stats should have him front of the selectors’ minds when Tim Paine eventually retires.
2020-21 stats: 570 runs at 63.33, one hundred, five 50s, 21 wickets at 29.14, one five-wicket haul
The NSW all-rounder put together an impressive season with bat and ball and has been one of Australia’s promising young players for a while now. Again he has been around the side as a reserve bowler for a while now. An Australia A game would give him the opportunity to show his wares at the Test level.
2020-21 stats: 18 wickets at 24.33, two five-wicket hauls
Consistently one of the better bowlers in the Shield set-up, his ability to swing the ball and take top-order wickets has been clear for a number of years.
He is a handy lower-order batsman. He became one of the first players score a hundred and take a five-for in same game in over a decade. Again, like many bowlers, he’s been stuck behind the talented NSW bowling trio and an Australia A game would be a good opportunity to press his claims as Mitchell Starc’s waning Test form could yield a spot heading into an Ashes series.
2020-21 stats: N/A
After a Shield season wiped out due to injury, Richardson bounced back in the BBL. He was the competition’s leading wicket taker, taking 29 wickets at 16. He parlayed that performance into a $2.5 million pay day at the IPL auction. Hopefully he gets through the second leg of the IPL unscathed and we can finally see him playing red-ball cricket and show some of the form that earned him a Test debut against Sri Lanka in 2019.
2020-21 stats: 32 wickets at 23.40, three five-wicket hauls, one ten-wicket match
The young leggie is finally realising some of his vast potential with easily his strongest Shield season to date. He was the competition’s third leading wicket taker and recently gained attention in the national side in the shorter formats. He is far and away the leading candidate to fill Nathan Lyon’s position as the side’s spin option.
2020-21 stats: 19 wickets at 31.31
It is very early in the 22-year-old Queenslander’s career but he has shown a lot of promise in the BBL and now Sheffield Shield. He has the ability to swing the new ball and he is definitely a player for the future. Early exposure to the international scene certainly would help fast-track his development.
There are a number of deserving candidates coming through Australia’s ranks. However, this side balances players that could represent the Test side in the near future while giving opportunities for players that have a long future ahead of them.
At the end of the day I hope that the Test between Afghanistan and Australia can go ahead. But while opportunities for women are being denied, we as citizens of the world cannot sit idly by.
And similar to the reaction the world had to the travesties of apartheid, sending South Africa a message, we need to do the same for Afghanistan.
While it is incredibly sad that in 2021 we are still dealing with issues like women being allowed to take part in sport, in a cricket sense Australia should not waste this opportunity to prepare as many of their potential Test cricketers as possible.
With two home Border-Gavaskar defeats in a row and an Ashes series coming up, it simply isn’t a series we can afford to lose.
With our own domestic season thrown into disarray due to COVID-19 in NSW and Victoria, and Australia’s Test side having played no meaningful cricket since January and only five games in all of 2021, we discard Test match opportunities at our own peril.