Clarke's grade game to be investigated
Extraordinary lengths taken by Michael Clarke's grade club to ensure the injured Australian captain can bat next weekend, if he is fit enough to do so, will be investigated by Cricket New South Wales.
In a bizarre set of circumstances at Old Kings Oval, Western Suburbs were sent in to bat and declared their first innings closed at 0 for 17, before their opponents Paramatta responded by also closing early at 2 for 140.
Western Suburbs then reached 1 for 230 in their second innings by the close, meaning Clarke will be able to bat for the club next weekend should his hamstring respond to treatment swiftly enough to allow him to maintain a desperate bid for inclusion in the first Test team to play India in Brisbane.
However the Cricket NSW chief executive Andrew Jones was quick to question the contrived nature of the scenario, saying in a statement that the match would be subject to investigation regardless of Clarke's circumstances.
"We understand Wests may have taken this action [the declaration] to increase the probability of Australian Captain Michael Clarke batting in the second week of the game," Jones said.
"While Cricket NSW and the Sydney Cricket Association are conscious of the broader interests of Australian cricket and hence appreciate the thinking behind this gesture, we are also conscious of the need to maintain the integrity of the Sydney grade competition.
"Consequently we will investigate the full facts and evaluate Wests' actions at the conclusion of the round, with appropriate input from all key stakeholders."
Clarke's consuming desire to be passed fit for the Gabba, despite suffering a third hamstring strain in a matter of weeks against South Africa in Perth last week, has caused plenty of dramas in the days since he pulled up after completing a run at the WACA Ground.
The team performance manager Pat Howard's strong words that Cricket Australia and Clarke needed to take a step back and think about his long-term future rather than simply rushing back to play once more were not backed up by the chairman of selectors Rod Marsh, nor the coach Darren Lehmann, who both refused to rule Clarke out of the Brisbane Test.
Team physio Alex Kountouris, a longtime confidante of Clarke due to his expertise in dealing with the captain's degenerative back problems, admitted in Sydney on Thursday that Clarke is yet to run or bat, and has been afflicted by a back flare-up in addition to his hamstring trouble.
Now the grade competition has been affected by Clarke's wish to try to be fit to bat for Western Suburbs next weekend, leaving Jones to wonder at the integrity of what transpired at Old Kings Oval.
The marginalising of club cricket by CA's elite talent pathway system and plateauing participation figures have been a point of major disquiet in recent years, leading to reviews of grade cricket and attempts to integrate it more closely with the development of players.
Most have agreed that grade cricket needs to be better utilised as a tool for the development of young players but also as an arena for more senior cricketers to demonstrate their skills and therefore educate future generations. Whether those reviews had this sort of scenario in mind is open to conjecture.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig