Derranilphil of cricketpodcast.com explains why someone you might never have heard of is the reason Australia lost The Ashes.
Many people, many experts and even the most excellent one Hand One Bounce Podcast have been busy pontificating (note the pun) on the recent Ashes series and the state of elite Australian cricket generally. There’s been absolutely no mention of the grassroots of Australian cricket: i.e. park cricket. We, park cricketers, are going along perfectly happily despite Mitchell Johnson’s inability to bowl two balls in a row on the wicket.
I love test cricket. It is dramatic, the absolute test of a sportsman’s technique and character. I go to several tests a year and spend hours reading, writing and thinking about cricket: real cricket, test cricket, park cricket not the codswallop (one day stuff) we now have to put up with for the rest of the season.
However, I think it is now the appropriate time to consider the last ashes series where the Poms gave Australia a thrashing. In all that I have read, I do not think any commentator has looked at the organization of first class cricket we now have in this country and has tried to see what the organization of first class cricket means to our test team.
About ten years ago, the players association sat down with the Australian cricket board (ACB), and nutted out an agreement to distribute “the loot” amongst the players. The players were guaranteed a percentage of the total revenue of the ACB. This may sound innocuous but it had one consequence that was unseen at the time, and this consequence has been missed by all today (apart from me). Players in the Sheffield shield (or the Pura Milk Cup as it was known as then) received an enormous pay rise. Previous to this agreement, Sheffield Shield cricketers were paid a peppercorn amount. Now they receive over $50,000 a year (please note I have not bothered to look the exact amounts up). This increase has changed the age cohort of all Sheffield Shield sides and directly leads to the sorry state of Australian test cricket.
What used to happen is journeymen, players like Damian Wright or Klinger, would retire early. It meant that the Sheffield Shield (Pura Milk Cup) was a young mans’ competition. Players who were never going to be selected for Australia retired early. A few years ago, Peter Bedford spoke at an Australian Cricket Society function. Bedford won a Brownlow medal in his early twenties. But he gave up cricket, a sport he loved. He continued to play Australian Rules football, a sport that paid for his house but was not his first love. Peter may have one day represented Australia, but he retired very young. He had a wife and family to support. By twenty-five he was an ex cricketer.
While Australia had its recent great side, the media would remark continually of the ageing of the Australian test side. I thought people writing about this were one: silly, and two: missing the more important point. Of course the side was ageing as great players stay on. Sir Donald Bradman and Jack Hobbs were still great cricketers in their forties. The media missed and continued to miss the more important issue i.e. the ageing of all the Sheffield Shield sides which was happening in parallel with the test team, but had a different cause.
The players selected in the Australian side for the first two tests had one thing in common; their best was behind them (possibly Siddle was the exception) these old sides reflected the age cohort of the Sheffield Shield teams.
So what can be done? Simply don’t pay Sheffield Shield cricketers the exorbitant amounts they do today. No-one goes to see this competition. I go to a few days of Shield cricket each year and see the same old faces. The spectators are all older than me. Even the spectators have their best behind them.
Another problem the selectors had in these last few summers is that all the test matches were over by New Year period. Surely this means we need to play many more shield matches than we do before Christmas. This summer, apart from Kujawa, none of the young batsmen had enough innings to get into form before Christmas. Had we had twice as many games, Phil Hughes for example, might have scored a few runs before being selected for Australia. Has a more out of form, young player, ever been selected for Australia?
This, of course, is not what I would like to see. I would like to spread the test matches out over the summer. I loved the pauses between the test matches that we used to have. More time to players to state their case for selection, more time for players to return from injury (and never to return) more time for us fans to bore our wives silly and to spend hours ruminating on test cricket.
Today, the IPL and twenty/ 20 cricket have crowded out proper cricket. I was amused recently at a Mercantile Cricket Association Umpires Association meeting. A few of the young Indian fellows were bemoaning the twenty/ 20 game. They thought it a nontraditional one day format “it is only slogging” they said. “No science or technique in it” they said despondently.
Oh dear. I think we have a fair few more pressing problems than the Australian team losing a few matches. We have a generation of young people, and the media, who cannot see the wood for the trees.
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