October 5, 2013

Australia need to be Hussified

The Sheffield Shield needs to toughen up and national players must feature in it for at least two months before the Test season

Chris Rogers should have got a chance in Tests before all the young, inexperienced batsman that Australia have been picking in their squad © Getty Images

Yes, Michael Hussey, yes, yes, yes: The Sheffield Shield "should be hard and uncompromising, not a finishing school." And yes: "If you start playing youngsters who aren't quite good enough yet, it will lower the standards and intensity and make the jump to Test level so much bigger." Not truer words spoken since Arnie told us he was comin' back.

Hussey, in his you-beaut new autobiography, unfortunately not called Wanton: The Michael Hussey Story, says we're all formed by our experiences and that it's wrong to get rid of guys in their late twenties and early thirties in favour of Youth for Youth's sake. He says he's living proof that you can make a Test debut at 30 and still have a long and storied career.

There was a time when Hussey's experience was the norm, when a man would debut in Australian Test cricket after a "career" playing domestic cricket. Players were forged over half a dozen years or more, playing consistent first-class cricket against first-class - and often Test - cricketers. And thus were Australian Test cricketers made.

Now, not so much. Usman Khawaja, Phil Hughes, David Warner and Shaun Marsh are all hyper-talented batsmen. But are they good enough to play Test cricket? Numbers would suggest they are not.

First-class cricket in Australia has been emasculated. Australia's international cricketers rarely play first-class domestic cricket, so often are they overseas playing what are effectively high-paid exhibitions. And the domestic competition has suffered for it and the Test team flowing into that. There aren't first-class cricketers (batsmen, mostly) knocking on the door. They aren't playing against strong enough opposition to wit the Test players to improve.

Look at Eddie Cowan. Just had a rough trot. Was probably stiff to be dropped after the first Ashes Test. But Cowan is an example of someone who did a Hussey, and spent several seasons playing first-class cricket learning his game, and learning about the game. When he came in aged 30 in he looked assured.

Chris Rogers is another. He should have been given a gig five years ago. Instead they went for kids: Hughes, Warner, Marsh, even my favourite Khawaja. They are playing Test cricket before they are ready. They are not ready. They'll tell you otherwise. And they are probably the best options Australia have in a fairly lean time for top-order bats. But they are not ready. They haven't been Hussified.

(Hussified? I'm goin' with it.)

I've harped on it before. I'll harp on it again. For the Australian Test team to be strong, the Sheffield Shield must be strong. And for the Shield to be strong, all the best players should be playing in it. Before this upcoming Ashes Test series, there should be four or five first-class games that everyone has to play in, from the top seed in the Cricket Australia contract list all the way down.

Everyone playing everyone, competitively, hard, fighting each other for the Test spot. This can't be just me.

Cricket Australia points to "A" games and academies and says first-class results aren't the only measure of what it takes to make the Australian Test team. They say that there will be one or two Shield games that the international guys can play in. And they can make a case. Playing the next-best South Africans on their turf isn't going to be easy. But none of this helps make the Sheffield Shield strong.

Maybe it's just how things have to be. The people making these decisions are in the game and have been for a long time. In a game of "Check Out The Big Brain On Brad", I'm deferring to James Sutherland every time. When Greg Chappell says it's all good, it's probably all good. And when guys like Rod Marsh say they have the game's best interests at heart, they aren't making it up. These aren't platitudes. They do care.

But then you see a dozen of Australia's best cricketers playing one-dayers in India when they should be playing in the Sheffield Shield in a two-month long audition for a Test spot. Good players playing against each other is what makes good players better. Shane Watson and Clint McKay and Mitchell Johnson, and all the rest of the one-day guys, men who presumably want to play Test cricket, should be playing against Australians in the long-form domestic game, and so making other players better for playing against them. It's the game as a whole. The so-called Big Picture.

So: less blooding kids, more first-class matches featuring every CA-contracted player, more 30-somethings in the game, the six-week period from mid-September to early November exclusively for long-form interstate matches, play the short-form stuff in January and February, finish Sheffield Shield, then everyone can go off to play T20 and make some dough leaving several dozen first-class cricketers all sufficiently… Hussified.

Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on October 10, 2013, 22:50 GMT

    Australia doesn't need to be Hussified, it needs to be De-Clarkeised

  • landl47 on October 6, 2013, 22:22 GMT

    @milepost: : I'm not as familiar as you are with the Australian domestic game. Perhaps you could nake some of the prospects, in the under-24 age group? I can only think of Maddinson. England has Root, Ballance and Stokes on this tour, Taylor who has already played test cricket and has a FC average of 48, Vince, who made 110 runs @60 with 4 centuries in the county championship tour and Buttler, whom you saw making 75, 65* and 42 in his 3 ODI innings in the series just concluded.. Is there a comparable list for Australia?

    In the bowling department, Aus has some good youngsters, but so does England. Both sides are a bit weak in spin prospects. It's batting where Aus seems to be struggling to find the next generation, hence the call-ups for players like Rogers, Bailey and Ferguson. Sure, having a winning side helps, but England can already name most of their side five years from now. What about Australia?

  • milepost on October 6, 2013, 18:17 GMT

    @landl47, this is one of the rare occasions I disagree! I think there is actually a good amount of talent in Australia but the big difference is coming into a winning setup or a losing one. Players like Root and Barstow may well have been dropped quickly coming into the English side if they were losing. Getting new talent into a losing side is a much tougher prospect but there a some guys who look good.

  • dummy4fb on October 6, 2013, 11:29 GMT

    "Phil Hughes, David Warner and Shaun Marsh are all hyper-talented batsmen."

    A bit optimistic, Matt, sorry.

  • landl47 on October 6, 2013, 3:58 GMT

    You have a point. Matt, but you've chosen a mixed bag of examples. Cowan and Marsh were not untried youngsters, they were seasoned professionals when they made their debuts. The fact is, neither were good enough. Clarke was a young player when he made his debut and he's done very well.

    The Shield does need to be strengthened and it would benefit young players to get more first-class experience, but if the players are good enough, they'll make it. The chief problem for Australia is that at the moment it's not a case of there being too many young players in the game. It's that there aren't enough young players with test potential in Australia.

  • Insult_2_Injury on October 6, 2013, 3:48 GMT

    Couldn't agree more, including the Aussie summer schedule. Rod Marsh at the Academy had the right idea sending rep sides to places like India and the W indies to demystify those locations for the up and comers as they all used to beat a path to England. He was also an advocate for those up and comers getting a run in the Shield to be exposed to the other element vital to Test cricket - hard cricket against hardened team oriented cricketers. Now they show some promise and become A 6 figure bench warmer for a T20 franchise. They will not learn the same lessons playing with & against a T20 mercenary like Gayle or Afridi, regardless of their experience, because they're missing out on the TEAM aspect. Not only do they need a month against their rivals for a Test spot, once in the team they need 3 weeks of lead in matches when on tour. India refused the ICC's DRS. Australia should refuse the further crowding of schedules which have proved detrimental to gaining meaningful experience.

  • smudgeon on October 6, 2013, 2:48 GMT

    You make some good points, but an alternative point of view: players like Watson, McKay and Johnson probably do want to play test cricket - it's the premier format of the game, after all. But take the example of McKay and Johnson: they have been picked to play for their country in a format that they are very successful in against one of the best teams in the world in testing conditions...yet you're saying they should forgo this on the possibility they do enough in Shield to earn a Test spot. Tough call. Presuming you're including Bailey in the group of Test aspirants who should consider opting out, he's about to captain his country in the same circumstances and win. Again, tough call. More first class cricket is desirable, nice if the Shield season could be extended, but you trying to wrest back any of the ground given to AFL in the last 25 years. A winter top-end series is maybe an option, but again, you're up against a very popular winter sport that uses most of the same grounds...

  • dummy4fb on October 5, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    I agree, ECB please note and let the England players play more county championship matches.

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