Domestic Cricket in Australia: time to look to England as the model?

I tweeted last night how impressed I was with the ECB after watching the draw for its 50 over competition in 2014. It got me thinking about the Australian domestic cricket set up and confirmed for me that a very real reason that cricket in this country is lagging behind the “old enemy” is the treatment presently being meted out to the domestic game by Cricket Australia.

We are all aware of the travesty that is the new Ryobi Cup competition for 2013. It has been made to be a 3 week carnival held all in the Sydney suburbs on non-first class grounds. We are all aware that Cricket Australia is chasing the dollars that comes from the Big Bash League. If you like hit and giggle cricket then you will love December and January in Australia. Finally, we are all aware that the Sheffield Shield competition is no longer a nursery for the next cricketers coming into the Australian set up. How could it be when the players in the test team do not deign to play in the competition? Or are not allowed to?

Something has to give with all of this: the reality is that Australia has become, in recent years, a second tier player in the international game across all forms. A thrashing in the Ashes, a thrashing in the Champions Trophy and being completely ineffectual in T20 are all the indications one needs to know that. I have already called for the head of James Sutherland, the Cricket Australia CEO, but it would seem that so long as the profits are rolling in no one at Cricket Australia Towers wants a bar of that. So what else then can be done?

Rather than filleting the domestic game in this country in favour of overseas tours that mean nothing and the BBL irrelevance, my proposal would see more domestic cricket being played rather than less. The ECB has set the benchmark for using its domestic competition to procure players ready for the top flight because they play more domestic cricket over there. That was Sam Robson’s reason for moving over there and, thinking about it in reverse, when was the last time an English domiciled cricketer played in Sheffield Shield? Graeme Hick for Queensland is the name that comes to mind.

The County Competition is played between the middle of April and the end of September and they manage to fit in 16 first class games within that span. All whilst (in 2013) fitting in 12 40 over games (to be 50 overs in 2014) and 10 T20 games. Conversely in 2014, Australia’s domestic cricketers will play a maximum (if not making the finals) of 10 first class games, 5 50 over games and 7 T20 games in a span that runs from October through March.

It is simple to say but it is striking just how little cricket is available to Australia’s domestic cricketers when compared to those plying their trade in England over a not dissimilar period of time. I know that historically cricket in this country has tried to wedge itself between the start and the end of the AFL and NRL seasons however, if that is the reason for Australia’s truncated number of domestic games, surely the English experience shows just what a fallacy that approach is. In England little care is given for the fact that Premier League Soccer has already started and still the domestic cricket season chugs away.

I, for one, see no reason why, noting the weather in Australia in September, the Australian domestic season could not start in September and hinge upon a Sheffield Shield program that runs for 15 games rather than 10. Now before I hear the mantra “that is too much cricket” consider this: even allowing for a 42 day carnival of irrelevance (BBL) a 24 week season window would still have 18 weeks in which to play proper (non carnival) cricket. In 18 weeks why shouldn’t professional cricketers be tested with playing 15 games of FC class cricket with an extra day of play tagged on for 50 over cricket?

We have the climate and the wickets to play more domestic cricket in this country. We also have the time to do so. An obvious flow on from playing more domestic cricket is the greater opportunities playing so much would present to those already in the Australian team to return to the Sheffield Shield and play for form or to nurture the next lot of talent coming through. All of this raises the question: why not play more domestic cricket? To that the only answer I have is that it costs money.

Historically cricketers in this country have made light of the County system and yet some of our best players continue to spend Australia’s winters in England playing the game and developing into test standard players. It was good enough for Messrs Chappell, Border, Waugh, Hayden, Langer and Hussey afterall. Now is the time to look at what is going well in English cricket and a big part of that seems to be the amount of cricket they play domesitcally.

Unfortunately, I am talking about a “perfect world” scenario here where the river of money flowing into Cricket Australia’s pockets is no impediment to the structure of the domestic game in this country. We all know that Cricket Australia will not do anything to effect its bottom line so this strategy will never see the light of day. How long though must Australia stay in the doldrums before the dollar is not the principal KPI to success? One can only hope it is not too long. Otherwise the current malaise over the game is going to last for a while longer me thinks.

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