I slept like a baby as a youngster, snoring away through the beautiful dreams of an elegant Mike Hussey cover drive or a blistering Ricky Ponting pull shot. Nowadays in the new age of T20 cricket, fuelled by the excitement of nightly BBL matches, children dream of Chris Lynn cross bat mows over cow corner. Perhaps even bloody scoops over the keepers’ head, something that looks utterly ridiculous if you fail to execute and fall victim to the infectious invention. Those in charge at Cricket Australia are not only sabotaging the current generation by having a large break between shield matches, but perhaps more importantly, threatening the long term future of Australian cricket in the most traditional and classic form of the game.
Australia’s biggest downfall against India was the complete lack of capability for any batsman to occupy the crease for an extended period. This was in complete contrast to Cheteshwar Pujuara who put on a clinic if not always free-flowing and stylish. Why should we be surprised at Pujara’s grit, determination, concentration and overall excellence? After all it’s a habit that was first demonstrated when he scored a triple century at under 14 level. So why should we be surprised at Australia’s lack of sustained batting time given junior programs don’t allow for this to become habit from a young age.
I played in the Under 15 national championships back in early 2012, a tournament that consisted solely of 50 over matches. The best 14 year old’s in the country were unable to build long innings through long form cricket, something contemporaries in India and elsewhere are able to do. A couple of years prior in under 13’s, we played an intrastate tournament between the south, north, and northwest of Tasmania. In the final, opening the batting for the south, I made a Pujara-esque slow and steady start, reaching 11 off 35 balls. At that point I had to walk off the ground, not due to getting out but because we had to retire after facing our 35 deliveries. I wasn’t seen with bat in hand for the rest of the innings, the only consolation being that I hadn’t lost my wicket. This wasn’t muck around junior cricket where everyone needs an equal go, this was an assortment of the most talented young Tasmanian cricketers who by this age were already taking their cricket very seriously.
This is the inherent issue facing Australian cricket in the long format. By waiting until 16-17 years of age before experiencing non limited overs cricket, our future players are already a step behind those in other cricketing nations. The other issue is that there often pushed prematurely through the levels despite performance, often to the bemusement of others. When Marnus Labuschagne was named to bat at three for the final test, most of us looked at his recent and overall shield record and asked why? Heck, I was bemused when I was chosen to debut in first grade and open the batting. I’d come off a paltry 10 in second grade the week before, having missed the six weeks prior to that through injury.
Perhaps I’m making this more of an issue than what it really is, probably because my own uninspiring technique and style wasn’t suited to limited overs cricket. But Australian cricket needs to find a system or program that develops long form cricketers because right now, with Smith suspended, there’s no one in the current team that inspire any young players to do so. Rather they’re inspired by nightly BBL action, taking to training to emulate the new innovative shots or to see how far they can hit the ball.
Long form batting is about being selfish. F**k the next bloke coming in, I’m batting out here all day and making all the runs. Unless youngsters are blatantly hurting the team, like myself in a 50 over game where I once scored 47 in 45 overs, I have no issue with them taking that selfish approach. That’s what traditional cricket is about and the only way to learn and practice this is to give them the opportunities at a young age, much like Pujara was given all those years ago.