Australian cricket’s failings sees finger incorrectly pointed at junior pathways amid India’s dominance
The series against India has been sobering for Australia, with plenty of recriminations for all levels of the game. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
As the old saying would have it, victory has one hundred fathers but failure is an orphan.
If so, the paternity testing required to establish parental responsibility for Australia’s failure with the bat this summer will keep the laboratory assistants busy for some time.
Do you start with a first class system that has been bypassed and inevitably weakened due to the premium placed on “pathway” potential, sometimes at the expense of batsmen putting runs on the board?
Should those who dismantled the once fiercely contested state second XI competition in favour of the more speculative Futures League pay child support?
Have techniques been ravaged by over-exposure to short-form cricket, accentuated by an expanded BBL schedule that pushes Sheffield Shield cricket to the margins of the summer? Or are techniques still solid but temperaments weakened, with the consequence too few Australian batsmen are capable of emulating India’s immovable object Cheteshwar Pujara by turning decent starts into monumental innings?
Surely from this list we can identify something responsible for the inability to establish decent totals this summer in the absence of Australia’s two premier batsmen.
There has been no evidence this series that there is an Australian batsman who can build an innings like Cheteshwar Pujara. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
But another suspect has been mistakenly added to the long list of potential parents handed a specimen cup — Australia’s new junior cricket formats, the common sense rules designed to maximise enjoyment, skill acquisition and the retention of the youngest players by prescribing minimum/maximum amounts of balls faced and bowled in the very earliest junior games (typically for 12 years-old and younger).
In the context of Australia’s Test failings, the formats have been mocked by some as an expression of some supposed “PC, the world’s gone mad, everyone gets a prize” culture that is debilitating Australian cricket.
The (incorrect) assertion that “you can’t go out for a duck any more” has also been added to the list of far more relevant reasons why Australia’s batting has paled beside that of India this summer.
Of course, as anyone associated with a junior cricket well knows, this leap of logic is absurd.
The junior formats have been in place at most clubs for just two years; and as immature as some of the Australian batting has been, there are no 14-year-olds in the current Test line-up.
So it is something of a stretch to intimate Travis Head hit a full toss back to the bowler because he was not severely punished for a similar shot as a nine-year-old, or that Shaun Marsh nicked to first slip again because he had to retire after facing 20 balls in an under-10 game.
It’s far too soon to lay the blame for Australia’s cricketing woes on a two-year-old junior cricket program. (AAP: David Mariuz)
Accordingly, these tenuous comparisons seem like a misguided attempt to use Australia’s batting problems to project ill-informed misgivings about a system still in its earliest untested stages.
Two of the most common complaints about the new formats are that “going out for a duck created character” and “kids don’t learn to build an innings if they don’t face enough balls”.
Personally, I have heard the first complaint most often from former top level batsmen who made so few ducks as juniors that, by their own estimation, they should have the cricketing character of a sixth-grade battler.
These were the players who as juniors batted on while those supposedly enriched by their character building ducks lost interest because they were not spending sufficient time in the middle to improve their confidence and skills. Still, great life lesson though!
Smart clubs will ensure cricketing prodigies will play more games and get expert coaching. (Flickr: Dion Gillard)
Concerns about batting time are far more relevant and sometimes a challenge for local clubs trying to balance the needs of talented juniors against the insistence on full participation.
But smart clubs will ensure budding prodigies will play more games across their junior and senior programs and receive expert coaching knowing that technique is far more important than staying at the crease belting long hops from the seventh-change bowler while other kids don’t get to bat at all.
Of course those who mock the new formats without attempting to understand their intentions and fail to closely study the rules conveniently avoid the game’s greater questions.
Is winning an early-age junior competition really a triumph when half the team doesn’t come back the next season because they didn’t bat or bowl enough to remain interested and engaged?
Who determines which 11-year-olds are the specialist batsmen and bowlers who get more overs they need to fulfil their supposed “elite potential”, while others watch or field?
At many clubs you will find a direct correlation between the kids getting more overs and the parents who have put up their hand to coach, team manage or who supply the best morning tea, not necessarily their relative talent.
It’s a stretch to say Shaun Marsh nicked to first slip again because he had to retire after facing 20 balls in an under-10 game. (AP: Rick Rycroft)
How greatly did big scores made against often limited opposition as a 12-year-old really contribute to the development of a Test batsmen compared with excellent coaching, supportive family, personal persistence and the sheer good fortune of identification by a grade club or an elite pathway?
Optimistically, an unforeseen benefit of the administrative changes at Cricket Australia is that the cause of Australia’s batting woes will be seen through fresh eyes.
The new CA broom has the chance to sweep away the obstructions to the development of Australian batting, albeit constrained by those deals that will make it difficult to immediately change areas such as first class schedules.
But you can wait a decade before deciding whether new junior formats become a factor in Australia’s batting decline or, more likely, they have helped deepen the pool of club, grade, state and hopefully even international cricketers.