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Opinion

Mediocre displays a testament to Australia's lack of depth

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1st October, 2023
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Roar Pro
1st October, 2023
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How many people watched the Australia A versus New Zealand A series? There did not seem to be very many spectators at the ground most days.

Indeed, when the most recognisable name on the team sheet is Cameron Bancroft, only those truly invested show up. Nevertheless, the games were thrilling, pulsating affairs where momentum swung back and forth throughout. New Zealand A won the four-day matches; Australia A won the one-day matches.

Now move to South Africa where South Africa won an ODl series largely because Australia ran out of players towards the back-end of the series. Conceding 416 runs in a one-dayer is an anomaly, but then being unable to chase 306 in the following match shows that something is clearly amiss with the side’s depth. So, what’s the problem?

The biggest problem is Australia’s remarkable stability. Since Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have played together, Australia has won a remarkable 13 of 22 Tests. Since Lyon’s debut in 2011, just seven fast bowlers (not including Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood and various all-rounders) have debuted for Australia. Only four (Scott Boland, Jhye Richardson, Jackson Bird and James Pattinson) have played more than two Tests.

Scott Boland celebrates the wicket of Ravindra Jadeja.

Scott Boland celebrates the wicket of Ravindra Jadeja. (Photo by Gareth Copley-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

The ODI series against India showed the gulf in class between the two sides, and it was only when Australia had their almost complete starting contingent return that they finally won a game against an Indian side that rested a lot of players. So, why is there such a big gap between Australia’s “A” side and the rest of the world?

This gap comes down to the lack of playing time for Australian’s second XI. The likes of Nathan Ellis, Tanveer Sangha, Sean Abbott and Josh Inglis may star for their Big Bash League sides, but they have a lot to learn about facing quality international players.

All four are rising stars who may yet have major roles to play in international Australian sides. All four also need more seasoning to help them adjust to the ebbs and flows of international cricket because the Sheffield Shield and Marsh Cup, shorn of the bulk of their international stars, do not provide the robust challenges that up-and-coming players need.

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Similarly, the Australia A side that was selected for the New Zealand A series lacked much star power. People unfamiliar with the Big Bash would never have heard of the likes of Henry Thornton.

Most would know Cameron Bancroft as “the sandpaper bloke”; some may even know Mitchell Swepson and Matthew Kuhnemann with both having played for Australia, and some, perhaps only in Queensland, would have been familiar with the names of Jimmy Peirson and Mark Steketee despite both having been in and around the Test team in recent series.

With so much inexperience in the Australia A side, it begs the question: what is the purpose of the Australia A team? Is it a proving ground for the next rung players wanting to push their cases for higher honours, as it has mostly been in the past, or is it a chance for youngsters to put their names up in lights to show their class?

If it is the former, why was Matthew Renshaw not given an opportunity to show his wares in the two-day game? What justification could there have been for not selecting Michael Neser (although, he was flown to South Africa as injury cover later on) or Peter Handscomb?

Others like Jhye Richardson, Will Pucovski and Lance Morris, who all would’ve been in line to play, were coming back from injury.

The dual problems of Australia’s stability and their treatment of Australia A matches as chances for growth do not provide the next rung of cricketers consistent opportunities to prove themselves on the international stage.

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After the World Cup, Australia needs to use the ODI losses in South Africa and India as an opportunity to revamp their white-ball teams, to blood younger generations of talent into the Australian side; and must identify who the next rung of red ball Australian representatives are and provide them with meaningful game time through the Australia A fixtures.

Until this is fixed, the disparity between Australia’s best and the rest will continue.

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