So here is the latest from Cricket Australia Towers: they are going to change the rules of eligibility of players able to play in domestic competitions by making it easier for dual passport holding players to play. Why are they doing this and why are they doing this now? I have one name for you: Sam Robson. The “now” part is simple too: two weeks ago he qualified to play for England despite being Sydney born.
Only the closest of cricket watchers will know who Sam Robson is, or at least they would have until this season when he has exploded into a rich vein of form for his county side Middlesex for whom he has scored 3 hundreds at the top of the order and averaged 62.06. Six years ago, as an 18 year old, and behind the likes of Hughes, Katich et al in New South Wales he moved to England to play first class cricket. In fact, he is enamoured with the county game given that he is quoted as believing that the 16 four-day matches in that competition is better for his development than the Sheffield Shield competition. He returns to Australia in our summer to play club cricket for Easts in Sydney but under current rules cannot play in the Sheffield Shield competition.
So why then is Cricket Australia (and the NSW set up) moving for this rule change? Obviously those in power at Cricket Australia Towers have looked at the current batting line up and decided that the Australian line up needs another change and the injection of a young right handed batsman who has never played on Australian pitches is the answer.
Here is the thing for me: Robson, who I am sure is a lovely bloke, made a decision to move to England to further his career for which he is to be congratulated. He has had no part of the Australian set up though since playing for Australian U19s. He has not played a first class game on an Australian wicket. Most particularly though, there are other players of Robson’s vintage who have done the hard yards in Australia, worked their way through whatever roadblocks there were and are now playing at the first class (and test) level who also deserve a chance.
A cursory examination of the player list from Robson’s 9 Australia U 19 XI fixtures shows that only Phil Hughes is still playing in even first class cricket from the batters who were selected in any of those 9 fixtures. If one broadens the timeframe to the teams in the year preceding and the year following Robson’s time in the U19 set up some other names of note arise: Usman Khawaja, Tom Cooper, Steve Smith, Nic Maddinson. Additionally some names on the fringe of first class cricket in Australia also come up like Hill and Stoinis.
It is simplistic to say but should the powers that be at Cricket Australia Towers be rewarding someone for abandoning cricket in this country just because he is suddenly in a rich vein of form? My personal view at the start of writing this post was that CA should not be doing that (and that view has not changed) but the more I looked at the Australian U19 Xis from Robson’s time the more a worrying trend arose that is a bigger issue that needs to be discussed whether Robson plays for Australia or England or no one. The trend is simple: Phil Hughes, Michael Hill and Sam Robson aside not one batsman who played in the 9 under 19 fixtures that Robson played is currently playing first class cricket. Additionally, no one else is even playing Second XI cricket for their state at the moment. It is worth bearing in mind that Robson played in those games as leg spin bowling all rounder rather than an opening batsman and, on my count, some 13 other batters were used.
This all raises this question: what is happening to our best young batters between the ages of 20 and 25 that stops them from taking the next step? Robson had to move to England to get a chance, Michael Hill has played 37 fewer first class games than Robson in a sporadic career and Phil Hughes is a young star of the game. The rest are, at best, languishing in club cricket or, at worst, are not playing at all. The strange part of this is that presently in Australia our top cricketers play so little Sheffield Shield cricket (between test, ODI, T20, BBL and KFC and sock commercial commitments) that it is now considered very much behind the County Competition in stature yet some of our best young cricketers still cannot pierce the metaphorical glass ceiling and get a run.
Rather than rush through a rule change that could see Sam Robson in a baggy green (as an aside has anyone thought of what kind of look it would be for Cricket Australia if they change the rule and he still says no OR Cricket NSW don’t select him?) maybe those in the seats of power at Cricket Australia Towers need to look more closely at the development of all of our young cricketers and consider methodologies for keeping those cricketers in the game rather than selecting someone developed in another system? Surely a long term solution is better for Australian cricket than a stop gap one?
A final comment: Nic Maddinson has played 27 games of first class cricket, averages the same as Robson and is two years younger. Plus he has been committed to the Australian system since day one. Shouldn’t he be getting first crack at the team?