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From Alan & Philip Sutherland, Australia
The recent four-nil drubbing of the Black Caps by an improving Bangladesh, while good for cricket generally, must shine a spotlight on where New Zealand are heading with their domestic game.
The simple fact is that New Zealand is not a large country and cricket is not its national sport. In the hearts of most New Zealanders, cricket will always come a distant second to the All Blacks rugby team. With just over four million people, New Zealand has a smaller population than three of the six Australian states. Therefore, the task in running a quality domestic competition is so much harder for New Zealanders than it is for their Trans-Tasman neighbours.
In other sports, like netball, rugby, soccer and basketball, New Zealand has solved this problem by joining an Australasian competition. This could well be the future of Antipodean domestic limited-overs cricket too.
The main argument for such a move is an improved competitiveness for player development. During the 2010 Champions League Twenty20 tournament, the Central Districts hardly set the world on fire. They were easily a class below South Australia and Victoria. In a joint competition, two New Zealand teams (rather than six), possibly representing either of the two islands, would face the six current Australian states.
The other sports have shown that crowds will come to watch a local team play an Australian one, especially if they can reasonably be expected to see their side win. Home matches scheduled in a number of venues on both islands would help strengthen the local spectator base.
That is not to say that one would want to see the end of the Plunket Shield. There is no great merit in joint first-class arrangements, but one would hope that an increased exposure to tougher competition in the shorter versions would feed back into the Plunket Shield and, therefore, into the Test team. Playing under diverse Australian conditions will do up-and-coming New Zealand cricketers no harm at all. Neither will it harm Australian cricket, for the benefits flow both ways. Scheduling would become tighter, yet there is so much to gain that it must, at some point, be considered.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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