Loan system among Argus proposals
Australian cricketers would be loaned between states in an effort to ensure the nation's best 66 players are consistently appearing in the Sheffield Shield, under a proposal outlined in the Don Argus-led Australia team performance review.
A loan system, and the use of incentives to encourage strong states - namely New South Wales and Victoria - to allow fringe players to ply their trades elsewhere are key to the review's recommendations about strengthening the pathway that underpins the Test side.
Many figures within Australian cricket, the Tasmania captain George Bailey among them, argued that every effort should be made to get the best players playing first-class cricket, irrespective of their state. NSW in particular have an abundance of talent that may be better utilised by the greater flow of players to other teams.
"Australian cricket must consider innovative ways of dealing with the geographical imbalance of talent resulting from the widely varying populations of states," the Argus review said. "Consideration should be given to: a loan system at first-class level, perhaps managed by the National Talent Manager; mechanisms to encourage states to export under-utilised talent, for example: State Talent Managers being required to recommend players for transfer at the end of the season, where it is unlikely they will be selected by their current state; financial incentives for states for each first-class player they produce, regardless of whether the player plays for that state."
The rate of serious injuries among fast bowlers was also addressed, as the panel concluded that more needed to be done to manage the transition between short and long-format cricket. This conclusion shines harsh light on the scheduling of the expanded Twenty20 Big Bash League head-to-head with the home Test programme in December and January.
Australia's fast bowling stocks are believed to be strong, particularly in terms of the talent that is starting to emerge. However many fast bowlers, either young or more experienced, experienced serious injuries in recent times, and the panel argued that better and more thoughtful management was required, particularly to bridge the fitness and conditioning gap between the three formats.
"Feedback suggests that fast bowling injuries are and have been caused by a combination of factors: absolute match schedule and workload; changes in workload and intensity (eg. shifting between from Twenty20 to Shield); intrinsic factors such as age, bone density and skeletal strength; bowling action; lower proportion of overs being bowled by spinners.
"The 'gut feel' of most of the fast bowlers we spoke to, and others, was that: fast bowlers should be screened for the intrinsics above; workloads should be graded accordingly, with a bias to building players up over time through regular bowling (plus core strength work etc.) at higher levels than currently; workload management should be focussed as much on changes in workload than absolute volumes."
While the review's recommendations to restructure the selection, coaching and management processes around the national team attracted the most attention initally, Argus and company looked far more deeply into the reasons why Australia had stopped producing players of substance.
Among the other longer term plans outlined by the review panel were ways to encourage senior players to remain in grade cricket, while also discouraging the emergence of a "graduation mentality" that has seen first-class and Test players show reluctance to return to their local clubs.
It was concluded that more had to be done to keep senior players involved, so better to keep standards high and so educate young players. Research has been recommended to ascertain why older players have been leaving the game earlier than in the past. First-class and international players should also be reminded that they are not exempt from playing at the grassroots level.
"[We should] also reinforce that state players are not exempt from grade cricket and should play as often as possible," the report said. "A 'graduation' mentality among players - ie. a belief that once they have played at a higher level, they are no longer obliged to play, or were above, the previous level they played - is unacceptable."
James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, will arrive in Sri Lanka this week to speak to the players and officials on tour about the review. He sought to clarify that the review, while scathing about so many aspects of the Australian team's structure, performance and organisation in recent times, did not blame individuals.
"The report does not and did not seek to blame individuals - it says we have the wrong high performance structure and need to change the design of that structure," Sutherland said. "It doesn't and nor should it blame individuals such as Andrew Hilditch, Tim Nielsen and Greg Chappell.
"Take Greg Chappell for example - a person of stature - all the report says is that the job we created and then hired Greg to do should be structured differently to have a singular focus on national talent management. Similarly, Hilditch has previously argued Australian cricket needs a full time head of selection in the full knowledge that he would not be available should his recommendation be accepted."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo