By Rodney Tiffen
Having the domestic and international competitions at the same time would make it easier for players to be switched between them. (AAP: Dave Hunt)
The Australian cricket season is a mess. It is overcrowded, but without any rhythm or regularity.
The international season chops and changes between different formats, with fixtures in danger of becoming meaningless. Apart from the Big Bash, domestic cricket has all but disappeared from public visibility. There is no linking between international and domestic schedules.
I suggest the following will give more shape to the season, will better link international and domestic competitions, and be more attractive for both players and spectators. I suggest the summer should fall into these three phases:
Phase 1: Long-form Cricket
Tests and Sheffield Shield should be held from late October to early January.
The Australian test cricket season, consisting of four to six matches, should climax with the Melbourne Boxing Day and Sydney New Year tests.
The Sheffield Shield should consist of 10 rounds, played each weekend, as nearly as possible, for ten consecutive weeks.
Test players should be preparing by playing in the Shield and not in silly short-form games. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
Although a domestic cricket competition can never rival Australian Rules football or rugby league, those competitions have two things, which the Sheffield Shield patently lacks: regularity of scheduling, and a building of overall momentum in the competition.
Viewers/spectators would know there will be matches every weekend, and that each match is important not only in its own right, but because it builds towards the season’s final standings.
Certainly the current system of having almost a two-month break mid-season robs the competition of all momentum, and makes it very difficult to follow.
We should abolish the Shield final. Long-form cricket does not lend itself to finals, especially when one side only has to draw in order to be premiers.
Rather — although this will of course vary each season — the last rounds of the season should bring added suspense over which state will prevail.
This would have the advantage also that the players would play long-form cricket demanding proper technique before going into the more flamboyant demands of the shorter forms.
Having the domestic and international competitions at the same time would make it easier for players to be switched between them. Test players should be preparing by playing in the Shield and not in silly short-form games.
Shane Warne said last season that Peter Handscomb should regain form in the Shield. The only problem was that there was no Shield cricket for a couple of months for him to go to. When a player is dropped from the Australian team now they go into limbo.
Phase 2: Big Bash
The Big Bash League has two main weaknesses hat could be solved by moving the season. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
The Big Bash has established itself as a success, with its mix of teams including international players. But it has two major weaknesses.
As a spectacle, it suffers from not having the best Australian players available. As a competition, it suffers from star players disappearing to play international cricket at key moments.
It should be scheduled from early January to end of January to overcome the weak points.
The Indian Premier League would never dream of having India’s best players not available because of commitments in the national team, and Australia should recognize the importance of Twenty20 by adopting the same attitude.
This would also have the advantage of getting the Australian team out of their claustrophobic cocoon, dispersing into other teams and mixing with other people.
This would be an antidote to the sort of groupthink that led to the sandpaper scandal in South Africa. And it would present a different set of teams to capture the public imagination and break up the season.
Phase 3: Short-form tournaments
One-day matches are int he most precarious position in the cricket line-up. (AAP: David Mariuz)
The form of cricket which seems most endangered at the moment is 50-over cricket.
Now it is largely played as a short adjunct before or after test matches, with little sense that the teams are playing for great stakes.
Australia should cooperate with New Zealand each year and play a Southern Hemisphere-based four-country tournament. Or much more ambitiously Australia should cooperate with New Zealand and South Africa, and have a tournament involving six or more countries.
This would have more interest than current one-off mini-competitions.
If this was staged in February, spread over say three weeks, the domestic competition can be played at the same time.
One at a time will revive cricket
This three-part season would have the virtue of having three starts and climaxes, each a refreshing variation on what has gone before.
Players would only play one form of the game at a time. It should help to revive domestic cricket, with there being less of a total divide between the national and domestic players.
Each match in each form of cricket would have meaning as part of a larger series.
Rodney Tiffen is Emeritus Professor of Government and International Relations at University of Sydney.