Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Hobart December 13, 2012

BBL vacuum stretches Australia's Test team


On the eve of another home Test series played in a first-class cricket vacuum, Australia's team performance manager Pat Howard has admitted it will take years for international sides to find a way of coping adequately with the mounting tension between Twenty20 and long-form games.

As has become standard procedure for the Australian season, the Tests at the height of summer run concurrently against the BBL, leaving the national team and its selectors with no reliable first-class competition beneath it to groove players for five-day combat. Unless contracted to a BBL team, cricketers around the country have no option but to go back to their clubs for any kind of match play, leaving batsmen and bowlers without an adequate lead-in to possible Test match duty.

Mitchell Johnson, Australia's 12th man against Sri Lanka in Hobart, has packed his kit and prepared to fly out of Tasmania, and will now have only a series of four-over cameos for the Brisbane Heat by which to press his case for a return to the XI. Usman Khawaja and Alex Doolan, meanwhile, appear little chance of pressing Phillip Hughes for his newly regained Test batting spot via their T20 duties for the Sydney Thunder and the Melbourne Renegades. This muddled state of affairs will return again during next summer's Ashes Tests in Australia.

Howard told ESPNcricinfo that the competing technical, physical and mental demands of T20 and Test matches were causing furrowed brows around the world, leaving players, coaches and support staff from all nations at something of a loss to find the ideal preparatory path. Australia has made considerable strides in developing the lines of communication between CA, the states and the BBL teams to ensure players of interest are given some chance of staying Test-ready, but Howard conceded much still needed to be learned.

"It's not a perfect world, you want to be able to deal with all the different formats, and it's complicated. But it's complicated for everybody," Howard said. "I actually think dealing with this challenge will take a couple of years for all countries, and they're dealing with it in different ways.

"The scheduling is difficult. In saying this, you get plenty of warning - it's not like they put that schedule up against you a week in advance. So we know this same round of BBL is between Test one and Test two of the Ashes next year, we're well across that. So we're 12 months in advance in our schedule and our thinking, so we need to be making sure those guys in and around the team are getting practice with the right coloured balls at the right time, with the right coaches.

"And they know they're playing in game X, but part of their training is going to incorporate Y. That's been communicated through the national selection panel with the states as well and through the BBL teams. That process has been happening. It's never easy, but it's part of the challenge that all teams and all countries now have to go through."

Australia's captain Michael Clarke experienced the difficulty of being left to his own devices for almost a month in October during the Champions League T20, which left New South Wales without any Sheffield Shield matches due to the Sydney Sixers' qualification for the international club tournament. He said Howard and the national selectors were doing a fair job of informing players of where they stood and how much they needed to prepare.

"It's so hard to have the cake and eat it. The Australian Test team's playing 12 months a year, there's no real perfect time to not be playing first-class cricket," Clarke said. "I think what we're doing really well, and Pat Howard deserves a lot of credit for this, is making sure the next group of players are still doing a lot of work against the red ball knowing we've got Test cricket, not only through the Australian summer but then we go to India."

Medical and fitness staff around the game have for some time pushed for the more liberal use of substitutes as a way of closing the gap between the formats. Howard said he would like to push further into that territory in domestic competitions but said he had no desire to tamper with the 11 v 11 traditions of Test matches.

"I'm on the [Cricket Australia] playing conditions committee and there are very valid arguments, one for tradition, one sports science," Howard said. "By no means would I want to test the fabric of Test cricket, that's not what we're here to do. There are traditions that are wonderful for the game.

"But I think in terms of some of the statements [Victoria coach] Greg Shipperd has made around other versions or other formats, I am interested to have a look at it from a health and welfare position. But not Test cricket, that's not going to change. You'd love to bring players back in to play more Shield cricket at different times without overexposing them at other times."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    I like the idea of shield and ryobi running sep-dec/early jan, then feb-march. Tests finishing with the Sydney test early jan. then a few weeks window for bbl. then feb the odi series. So shield and ryobi run concurrently with international tests and odi's, with a three week window for bbl.

  • Christopher on December 14, 2012, 12:29 GMT

    I pointed out 18 months ago when CA rammed through BBL a year ahead of schedule without adequate State consultation to beat the Argus Review findings, that it would have a destabilising influence on traditional formats if given priority. Regardless of public statements to the contrary by CA, this article, Pat Howard and Micheal Clarke clearly show that BBL is being given a damaging precedence over longer formats. Given the longevity of Test and Shield, it should be noted that a number of 20/20 competitions have risen and vanished internationally in a short time span. It should also be observed that numerous teams have proven financially unviable and been disbanded.Crowd support in India has waned in favor of TV.How is this promoting crickets interests? Even at its best, 20/20 offers little exposure of the marquee players and its already pared back results risk weather interference that dilutes the brand further.It becomes difficult to make a case for what is cricket in name only.

  • Scott on December 14, 2012, 6:56 GMT

    I'd rather can the BBL, but as that's unlikely to be an option.. How about remembering T20s are meant to be a quick format. Seriously, why does something that takes 3 hours per game (on average), need 6 weeks to complete?

  • Andrew on December 14, 2012, 1:01 GMT

    @hmmmmm... on (December 13 2012, 09:30 AM GMT) - it would make sense to organise a touring A-side during December/January - all that would need then, would be for Cric Oz to show the stones to pull key Test players out of the BBL. In the ned I don't care what they come up with, as long as there is something meaningful (i.e 3/4 day cricket), between the middle of December to the end of January!

  • Neil on December 13, 2012, 13:58 GMT

    Zen, I reckon there are 30 Sheffield Shield games + 1 final, 24 OD games + 1 final, and 32 BBL games + 3 finals in 2012. Perhaps players could specialise in mainly one format, so the 3 different forms of the game can run their competitions concurrently. I would like to watch a specialist Australian test team play throughout the year, without stops for the other formats' competitions, but would more games and more players lead to poorer standards, viewer fatigue or greater profits? It seemed manageable when there were 2 formats, but today's players are often trying to perform well in 3 different formats and maintain a balanced life, without injury. It does not look sustainable to me.

  • Dummy4 on December 13, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    You could relieve some pressure in the domestic calendar by hosting round one of SS in the winter in northern Aust, say in May. Likewise a round or two of Ryobi cup- might be useful prior to Eng and WI tours.

  • Jonathan on December 13, 2012, 13:07 GMT

    Soon enough 50 over cricket will be finished and T20 will then take its spot on the cricketing calendar.... (3 years if you believe Gilchrist)

  • Murray on December 13, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    They could just forget the BBL...... Hasn't everyone else already ?

    I predict t20 will hold public interest for 2/5th the time ODI's did (and only that long if people really are as stupid as they seem)

    There will ALWAYS be people who would virtually pay to play test cricket for Australia. Likewise there'll always be people who feel they must earn money to enjoy their hobby.

    In the end the better players will be in the former camp.

  • Andross on December 13, 2012, 10:15 GMT

    I don't know why they can't adjust the BBL so that it's a quick short sharp tournament that goes for only 2 weeks or so. It's not like it's a massive physical challenge for the players, and that could be part of the fun of it, schedule it so that each team plays every 2-3 days, and get it over quickly, you'd still get the crowds, you could run it after the Sydney test over the school holidays and not upset anything. Just run the shield up until Christmas. @hmmmmm... At some point we had an AUS A team in a triangular series with AUS and a touring team (ODI mind you), But I think the trouble was that AUS A used to win a bit too often XD.

  • Guy on December 13, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    @zenboomerang and Meety both have good suggestions. Surely the majority of the BBL can be completed between Boxing Day and Australia Day (i.e during school holidays - most schools return around Australia Day), and then you'd be down to maybe semi-finals and finals which would only be held on Fridays or Saturdays anyway, so there is no real clash with school/work commitments. ODIs could run in parallel with the BBL, and should really be wrapped up by early Feb (we play far too many ODIs). Another option would be to schedule less ODIs, and none in January, so the BBL benefits from the 'star attraction' of Australia's internationals. Maybe have a quick three-match ODI series in early Feb and then head off to India/West Indies/New Zealand/wherever we happen to be touring for Tests and ODIs. However, I don't think it's quite necessary to complete the Shield by Xmas as zenboomerang suggests. Can easily combine Ryobi and SS in Sept-Dec, and then Feb-March.

  • No featured comments at the moment.