Shield Cricket: Demise or Decline?
As a guy who has been in state systems for 8 years (granted I didn’t play as much as some) this is purely my opinion, nothing more
The first test at Trent Bridge gave the Australian public a renewed sense of pride in their cricket team after a narrow loss. The emergence of debutant Ashton Agar buoyed a nation. Philip Hughes, Steve Smith and Brad Haddin all played innings of character, which we associate with our Australian side and our fast bowlers were those angry, intimidating men we’ve grown fond of. This series would live up to the hype after all.
This hype seemed short lived and people have been vocal in the media after Australia’s poor showing in the second test at Lord’s. There have been many excuses; changing the coach 3 weeks before the series began, unsettled team, batting order structure and disciplinary issues, which are all potentially valid. One excuse however, holds less merit than the aforementioned; the emergence of T20 cricket as a format on the domestic and international stage.
I can already hear your comebacks.
Yes, the shield season has been shuffled to accommodate the BBL, however the 10 game season has remained constant. Players need to adapt and invest time in their own game. (Something Chuck has been correctly vocal about.)
Yes, Australian players now play in various T20 leagues all over the world, IPL, BPL, SLPL (defunct), WIPL, UKT20 and even in the New Zealand T20 competition. But how many of the Australian players have missed Test matches (or any international fixture) to represent their T20 franchises? Tait? Dan Harris? They chose those leagues over grade cricket, and if you were them, why on earth wouldn’t you?
England invented the T20 game, India further developed it into their own league and both countries are respectively ranked 2 and 3 in Test match cricket.
Another excuse, perhaps the most pertinent, is that the strength of Sheffield Shield cricket is declining. I would take it one step further and bring it back to grass roots, structure, pathways and the talent management below Shield cricket.
For me, the introduction of the Futures League competition to replace State 2nd XI was the first major issue. This setup is akin to pulling the lower slates out of a Jenga tower and expecting it to remain tall and sturdy.
Age restrictions, which initially required that 7 out of 11 players are under 24 years old, (it has now been revised to 6/12) turns what was once a strong competition comprising senior fringe State players, sprinkled with the odd teenager (think S Marsh, Ferguson, Paine) into a glorified juniors competition.
By introducing these age restrictions, the likelihood of older (players over 30) state players playing grade cricket, in an attempt to regain a 2nd XI or state spot, diminished considerably. Think of the calibre of players we might have had, still playing. Not only do these players add to the quality of competition around, but also, they rapidly accelerate development of the odd teenager who has earned his place in the 2nd XI side.
Now, in recent times, players like Dan Harris (potential Australian T20 representative), Ben Laughlin (who represented Australia in ODIs), Cameron and Jason Borgas, James Smith and (from perhaps 2-3 years ago) guys like David Bandy are no longer featuring as much in these competitions (and I’m sure the list goes on and on in other states.) You’re telling me, these players are no longer needed because they’re on the wrong side of 24? A game where Mike Hussey didn’t debut for Australia until he was 30? A Rabbi walks into a bar with a pig under his arm…
When I first started playing grade cricket, fringe WA players like Rob Baker, Kade Harvey, Gavin Swann, Michael Clark, Darren Wates and Mark Atkinson were all still playing. Matthew Nicholson was (unjustly) in the 2nd XI along with a young up and coming 25-year-old player like David Bandy. Throw into the mix, a young Shaun Marsh (granted, a genius) and the 2nd XI was one that could challenge a Shield team. Shaun’s development must have been accelerated facing similar opposition players as opposed to kids his own age.
You answer me; would a kid aged 18 develop quicker if he is forced to face (in a 2nd XI) Gary Putland coming back from injury, Peter George, Jake Haberfield and Kane Richardson (if not in shield side) or four 21 year old bowlers? (Those players were selected on an absolute random basis – first 4 to come into my head)
If CA want another tier in which to inspect young talent, (aside from the 15s, 17s, 19s) pathways, an implementation of a state under 21s/23s tournament (2 week carnival like the rest) should be an option while abolishing any age restrictions on 2nd XI competitions. Why not make every level of competition, as strong as it could possibly be? You don’t build a house on a foundation of balsa wood.
The bottom slates of the Jenga tower have been removed and now that we are minus the household names of Ponting, Hussey, Gilchrist, Martyn, Langer, Hayden from the magical era, the tower is, unfortunately for us passionate supporters, starting to wobble.
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