It has been another interesting day in Australian sport. Probably one of the most of interesting pieces of news and one that has been responded to almost immediately by Cricket Australia has been the position taken Channel 9 with respect to the selection of the Australian cricket team.
For those who missed it, the Managing Director of Channel 9 Jeff Browne told a business lunch in Sydney yesterday that as part of the network's record $400million winning bid for international cricket rights, he expected to have a say in both team selection and in the scheduling of fixtures during the Australian summer.
James Sutherland, the CEO of Cricket Australia has been swift today to retort:
“Cricket has a long-standing and successful relationship with the Nine Network, but team selections and scheduling are matters for Cricket Australia''
No matter who you believe, and frankly I am prepared to believe the MD of Australia's largest television network over a CEO who has presided over the biggest decline in standards of player behaviour seen in the Australian game in my memory during his 12 years at the helm, one only needs to examine the players currently being selected by Cricket Australia to represent this country to see that whether or not it is Channel 9 selecting the team, marketability of players has become a factor in the selection process.
In this regard I am already on record apropos my contempt for the selection of players such as Glenn Maxwell and David Warner without, frankly, a semblance of form or even a solid first class career behind them. In the case of Warner, many are quick to forget that he had not been selected by his state for a first class game before he was first selected to play for his country.
That said, it is the other piece of cricket news today that really shows how far down this track the powers that be at Cricket Australia have gone in the name of marketing. Again for those who missed it Cricket Australia announced today a squad to tour Africa in July and August to play 3 first class games and a series of 5 one day fixtures. Here is the squad announced:
Smith (c) Finch (vc) Agar Ahmed Coulter-Nile Doolan Hazlewood Henriques Maddinson M. Marsh S. Marsh Maxwell Paine Sandhu Sayers
There are undoubtedly a number of players in this team who deserve their opportunities to represent Australia A. Doolan had a brilliant season for Tasmania as did Henriques for New South Wales. Sayers is a bowler of the future and was unlucky in my view to not be in the full blown Ashes squad.
That said: I refuse to believe that some of the other players selected in this team have been selected because of their exemplary form in first class and other domestic cricket in Australia this season. Now don't get me wrong: there are some players in this team who have the potential play for Australia in the years to come; of this there can be no question. However, you can not tell me that some such players are not in this team because of their marketing appeal rather than form.
Take the case of Gurinder Sandhu: no doubt he is a fine cricketer and, indeed was selected as state cricketer of the year last season for New South Wales. Kudos to him for having such a great start to his career. However, is he, off the back of two first class games in the Sheffield Shield really in the top ten fast bowlers in the country? That must be what his selection in this squad must connote must it not? I know he took 14 wickets in those first two first class games but how can that be enough to assess whether he is that good as yet? The simple answer is that Sandhu already has a marketing contract with Cricket Australia. They are pinning their hopes on “diversifying” the bandwidth of their marketing message by using the image of Gurinder Sandhu in their marketing material. In order to do that they have to, of course, select him don't they?
How must a player like Luke Butterworth from Tasmania be feeling in the face of this selection news today? Off the back of a season in which he played every first class game and took 45 wickets at an average of 20.89 runs per wicket he is seemingly not even in the frame to be in the top 10 bowlers in the country according to the selectors. Of course, he does not have a marketing contract with Cricket Australia.
For that matter, what about Trent Copeland who took 30 wickets for his state in 8 first class games last season and is bowling the lights out in the English Country competition this season? He has been a faithful servant of the game in this country and did nothing wrong when he was called up for the baggy green but, seemingly, because he is not a marketable commodity. Can anyone else come up with a cogent reason why he is not in the best 10 bowlers in the country? I have wracked my brain and can not.
I am not, repeat not, attacking Gurinder Sandhu: I hope he succeeds but I find it to be an abomination that players who clearly are ahead of him in both experience and the pecking order on form in domestic cricket are ignored because they do not fit a demographic that Cricket Australia wishes to market too.
So if you are surprised that Channel 9 think they can pick the team, then consider this: what reason have Cricket Australia given them to think otherwise? A marketing contract leading to selection on tour to represent this country despite there being other more qualified and in form players available for selection can only be an indication that selection for Australia is clearly for sale. I never thought I would see this day and to say that I am disappointed that it is here now would be an understatement.
And don't even get me started on Chris Hartley not being in the Australia A team!