Australian cricket season January 2, 2013

Repairing the Australian summer

How the Test team and Big Bash League can coexist.

To ask Michael Clarke how the summer schedule might be better planned is to watch the competing forces of Australian cricket wrestle all at once within the national captain's mind. The first thing to notice is the slightly pained look that crosses his face, as he weighs up all the competing parts of Cricket Australia and the states he must satisfy as the face and voice of the national game.

When Clarke speaks, he admits an understandable bias towards the fortunes of the Test team, but is careful not to trample on the Twenty20 Big Bash League. Mainly he is limited to careful and qualified sentiments about how the three formats of the game can co-exist, that all are important, and that in his case he has made the personal choice to give up international T20 in order to grant himself some small amount of time at home.

All the while he suppresses the urge to say what most Test players, coaches and selectors have been muttering ever since the expansion of the BBL last summer ran headlong into the strident conclusions of the Argus review. That document stressed the importance of the national team to the health of the game in Australia, and urged that no compromises could be made in ensuring its success.

Promising as it sounded, Argus' findings have had to compete with CA's strategic plan, which features pillars including the need to "put fans first" via means like the BBL, while also demanding a national team that strives to be the world's top ranked in all forms. There had to be tension somewhere in this muddle of national team thinkers, marketeers, administrators, broadcasters, players and fans, and so it has proved.

The BBL's gaudiness has been made more maddening for the national set-up by occupying precious schedule time during which the Test team is also playing. Batsmen have fought the competing technical and mental demands of jumping from format to format, while bowlers have more or less given up on the possibility of doing so without a greatly heightened risk of injury. Meanwhile those working assiduously at growing the BBL have noticed that the inadvertent competition provided by concurrent Test matches has affected their attendances and broadcast numbers.

Notions that Test match crowds had little interest in T20 and vice versa were too neat by half, and have resulted in a hodgepodge of a summer that is costing the game's blue-chip stock - the national team - at the same time the blue-sky speculation of the BBL is struggling to gain the desired foothold. Australian cricket is more or less at war with itself in a way not seen since the two summers of World Series Cricket. That state of competition did not last, and nor can this one. There has to be a better way.

Having looked closely at the rhythms of the summer, the peak times of the year for international matches and the habits of families, whose children are among the most desired audiences for the BBL, this correspondent has compiled a vision for a more sensible schedule, minimising the crossovers currently causing so much angst within Australian cricket. It is not a perfect solution, and will only be able to occur in the three summers out of every four that do not feature an India Test tour of Australia in December and January, but it is a start.

The central planks of the program should be the preservation of strong and reliable spots for Test matches, ODIs and T20Is, and the clearing of as much room as possible in school holiday time for the BBL. To that end, the five-day portion of summer should remain more or less where it has been this summer, beginning in November and on through December. The Boxing Day and New Year's Tests in Melbourne and Sydney are among the strongest embodiments of Test cricket in the world, and should stay that way. The Sheffield Shield that underpins the performance of Australia's Test side must be permitted its full 10 rounds and final, and by starting in late September or early October and running until around December 20, the competition may be allowed seven rounds before the onset of Christmas.

With the Test team reaching its final two Tests of the summer, Boxing Day is a reasonable start date for the BBL. There will be some competing elements as the tournament begins while the Tests go on, but a December 26 beginning will allow the tournament a chance to flourish into January, and wrap by the 25th of the month. This may be done by reducing the number of matches to the 31 played in 2011-12, all teams playing each other once.

Another way of tightening the event will be to schedule more frequent double-header match days, an option that would also work better to serving the audience CA needs to develop most from the BBL. While night fixtures are the more profitable television product, afternoon and twilight fixtures draw a greater number of children and families through the gates, allowing parents to get the family home at a more manageable hour. If this means sacrificing a little of the event's TV money, the likelihood of more children catching onto the game by being there is surely worth it.

The other major divergence this program takes from the current model is to hold off the start of ODIs and T20Is while the BBL continues. Instead of pulling on the green and gold of the national team's limited-overs strip, Australia's players would then be permitted a more meaningful - and promotion-friendly - stint in the T20 league than the one-match cameos of the first two seasons. But by tightening the BBL somewhat the ODI segment of summer would be permitted to re-start with a showpiece fixture on Australia Day, and allowed room to play on into mid to late February, depending on the touring team. It is broadly accepted that the segue from T20 to ODIs is far more manageable than that from T20s to Tests.

As an acknowledgement of T20's mounting popularity at the expense of ODIs, the 50-over series should be capped at three matches, or five if only one touring team is in Australia. T20Is should remain at two match series, in keeping with the widely held view that the game's shortest form is best served by club teams. These matches would take place after the Shield and domestic limited-overs competitions have begun again, providing a chance for players, selectors and coaches to recalibrate in the first-class game before the autumn and winter tours take place.

This alternative program is not particularly revolutionary, nor a violent departure from the numbers of matches and variation in fixtures currently in vogue. But it does neaten the season in a way that would reduce the sense that CA is fighting itself as much as other teams and other sports, something so evident in Clarke's furrowed brow when called to ponder how the summer might improve.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2013, 16:26 GMT

    The only change I'd make to that would be to have a 10 game tri-series of ODI's (Play each other 3 times, and then 1 final) instead of separate series. 2 x 3 bi-lateral series is meaningless.

    The only issue is ground availability. The AFL will have the rights over the MCG and Adelaide Oval from 2014 between late March-late September and neither realistically have suitable alternate venues under the CA criteria (need to upgrade Junction Oval in Melbourne). The SCG and The Gabba would also be under AFL contract, but there are alternate venues to play at in both states.

  • martin on January 5, 2013, 1:07 GMT

    OK, I think the schedule Daniel has tried is too short. I would run the Shield/ODI competition as one block during October/November. Reduce each team to 8 games (4 home 4 away) with the Final late November/ Early December. The BBL would be run for 3 weeks during February (as a State based Competition), with a finals day at one of the test grounds. This would lead to a 4 team international T20 tournament (3 double header days and a final day), with the BBL final venue missing out.

    This leaves October/January free for international cricket. This would consist of 5 ODI's, an Australia A warm up, then 4 tests, Boxing Day & New Years as usual, then Adelaide over Australia Day, with one test in between (I would always go for Perth as they are the only one's who seem to support Test cricket, but it could be rotated with Brisbane and Hobart), or a test in December (no Australia A warm Up) and tour during January early Feb, with the T20's able to shift a week or 2.

  • David on January 4, 2013, 15:22 GMT

    Pando ... How dare you knock the old boys? Hogg took wickets for WA (oops, Perth) and Dirk Nannes bowled his heart out today. I am rather enjoying: [i] supporting the team of the city where I was born; [ii] watching a nice variety of youth and ageing stars working together; [iii] feeling that all this doing no harm whatsoever to English cricket (I am a Pom), while quite possibly undermining Australia's performance in the next Ashes series. Joking aside, I think the suggestions in the article are excellent, and I utterly endorse your scepticism about the silly names given to the different teams. I do worry that the demands of T20 may inculcate bad habits in young players (eg Zampa looks a really good wrist spinner, but he needs to bowl longs spells not four overs, during which good balls may well be thrashed for six).

  • David on January 4, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    If Cricket Australia is serious about the national Test ranking, they should return to playing "winter" Tests in Cairns and Darwin against all opposition apart from England, South Africa and India.

    Gate receipts would be terrible, but there would be some TV revenue. And, most importantly, they could increase up towards 8-9 home Tests per year, which would accelerate the Test development of the likes of Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Wade and the bowlers.

  • raghavan on January 4, 2013, 9:46 GMT

    My Idea would be to play the Shield between Oct to early Jan as a single block,with the BBL being played from mid-Jan to mid- Feb,starting a few days after the New Year's Test and including 2 matches a day.The Shield Final will be hosted after the Big Bash.The Tests can be spread out with Brisbane hosting the opening game of the Summer in early Nov with Tests following in Perth and/or Hobart.Early Dec 3 odis and 2 t20's for the first team of the Summer,then the Boxing Day and New Year Tests at MCG and SCG.Following the Festival Tests 3 odis and 2 t20's for the 2nd team. The Australia Day Test at Adelaide will round off the Summer following which a few players can play in the 2nd half of the Big Bash before leaving for overseas tours in late Feb.

  • Roger on January 4, 2013, 7:24 GMT

    Great schedule Mr Brettig. You've come up with an ideal way to compress the time of the BBL with double headers (eg. an East Coast and a Perth game). I would like to see a series of 3 T20 internationals per series (perhaps inc. a double header). The Argus Report flagged the idea of the Sheffield Shield starting in August. This would be great and games could be played in country centres who would support it and would allow the SS Final to be played just before the Boxing Day Test. After the BBL you could then have the Ryobi Cup.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2013, 3:15 GMT

    Daniel, I've had similar thoughts but unfortunatley the FTP has Australia heading off to tour early to mid Feb every year until 2019. Provding any sort of meaningful BBL window is nigh on impossible if the FTP is stuck to.

  • nick on January 3, 2013, 21:17 GMT

    Peter - couldnt agree more. The franchise system is a "who cares" competition - further, it alienates anyone outside of thier state's capital city. That is the first and most evident observation of the lack of crowds in NSW and VIC relative to recent seasons. Secondly for goodness sake for over 100 years Australia has identified each state by its tradional colours. It is now nigh on impossible without the aid of crickinfo to decipher who is playing who? If the colours arent confusing enough we go and complicate it further by coming up with inane names for these franchises "sixers" "thunder" "hurricane" please, the state is suffice in cricket..... And finally way way too many "veterans". If we cant come up with enough lcoal players then cut back the teams. with all due resoect to the Gibbs, Warne, Hodge, Young et al brigade, your day was yesterday and sadly for most of the old boys it shows in thier performance.

  • Philip on January 3, 2013, 19:48 GMT

    Let us consider, for a moment, the case of Glenn Maxwell. He was selected in the twelve for the Sydney Test, but was relegated to 12th man duties and was sent back to the BBL for a game with the Melbourne Stars.There, he batted for all of 9 frenetic balls and bowled none. How does this help his long-form development, given that he is in so obvious need of further development if CA wish to persist with him as a future part of their Test line-up? Alternatively, had he made a cameo thirty-odd and taken a gifted (by slogging) wicket, would that have constituted sufficient grounds for his further inclusion in 12-man Test squads? The place of the BBL in the overall scheme of cricket in Australia is still up for grabs. That is not to say that it will not last the decade out, rather that it is still in its infancy and therefore not yet able to deliver on its potential without parasitising the standing of other forms. The alternative schedule outlined above is well worth consideration.

  • David on January 3, 2013, 11:25 GMT

    Sadly, we'll probably have to ditch the 50 over game sooner rather than later. That will unclatter the summer considerably. There are just too many formats now. Having just T20 and long format will mean more specialisation with players. But many will be able to wear both hats, just as many could when there were just the two longer versions of the game.