Watson calls for balanced schedule
Shane Watson has called for a greater sense of scheduling balance in the Australian summer, arguing the game down under will suffer if it continues to push the Twenty20 Big Bash League at the expense of the increasingly marginalised Sheffield Shield and domestic limited-overs competitions.
No Australian cricketer has gained more from T20 than Watson, who may never have returned to Test cricket without his resurgence for the Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural edition of the IPL. But after being elected to the executive of the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) in place of the resigning Simon Katich, Watson stressed that Cricket Australia should carefully consider their recent headlong pursuit of the shortest format, which has squeezed the first-class and 50-over tournaments to the fringes of the season.
The ACA are currently preparing a State of the Game Report to be tabled before CA in December, and it is expected to propose a tighter version of the BBL to be played in a less disruptive timeslot than the current window across the prime December-January phase of the season. Watson told ESPNcricinfo that a better schedule, more equitable to all forms of the game, needed to be found.
"We're getting a lot of information at the moment from all the players and the past players and working with Cricket Australia to be able to try and get the best balance," Watson said. "I know the balance really seems to have shifted towards Twenty20 cricket and the BBL - I've certainly played a lot of T20 around the world, but there's also a balance you can get that doesn't take away from the Sheffield Shield and the Ryobi Cup.
"The BBL is obviously a money-earner and people love watching it, but you've got to find the balance so it's not all in one direction geared to one competition. That balance needs to be found, and that's where the players need to have a good voice, but they're on the ground and know what's working and not working to continue their development as cricketers, and also the development of the game.
"There's no doubt T20 has brought different sponsors and different people to the game of cricket who wouldn't normally have been coming through the gates. But it's finding that balance so we're able to develop all-round cricketers who can play hopefully all formats, so it's not young kids coming in and just being tailored to T20 cricket, it's being tailored so you've got the foundation to be able to adapt to any form of cricket you do play."
Also casting an eye over how Australian cricket can rejuvenate its batting stocks after a generation of decline, Watson echoed the words of his batting mentor Ricky Ponting by insisting that the CA talent pathway, and domestic competitions from grade cricket up to the Shield, needed to be strengthened by ensuring the best coaches were in place at developmental stages.
"It's as simple as developing the talent we've got in Australia and getting the best out of them," Watson said. "We need to have the coaches there to get the best out of the talent we've got - we've always got a lot of extremely talented cricketers coming through and that's always been one of the big strengths of Australian cricket. We need to work on developing what we've got, making sure the right coaches are in the right places, to grow the love and passion for the game, but also the talent and skill they have. Give them a good grounding so that when they move up they have a really sound foundation."
Watson's elevation to the ACA executive committee, a group including Michael Hussey, George Bailey, Marcus North, Neil Maxwell an Lisa Sthalekar, confirmed the high regard in which he is held by many of his peers. Positions on the committee are voted on by all domestic and international players.
"To think that I've got enough votes to be voted onto the ACA executive certainly does mean a lot to me," Watson said. "It's nice to know people think I've got the right type of personality and the right type of experience to be able to give a lot to continuing to develop the game. It's something I've been very much thinking about and talking to [the chief executive] Paul Marsh about for the last couple of years and it's come up now because Simon Katich has stepped down.
"One of the big roles I'll play is to have input into what's needed, whether it's at grassroots level, grade cricket, first-class cricket or even the Australian team and the academy. There's a number of things in the development area I think they can improve. That's what we're about, the input we can have to try to grow cricket from the grassroots up, so once a few of us older guys have moved on and stopped playing there's a lot of really good, young, talented guys coming through."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here