Australia better prepared - Sutherland
On the day England faced an Invitational XI strengthened by Cricket Australia after the ECB's request to ensure better preparation for its players, the CA chief executive James Sutherland insisted Australia's mixed bag of ODIs in India, domestic limited-overs matches at home then three hurried rounds of the Sheffield Shield had provided a superior Ashes run-in for the forthcoming series.
Speaking at the Melbourne Press Club on Wednesday, following the launch of CA's $29 million national cricket centre in Brisbane the previous day, Sutherland maintained his defiant stance on numerous issues. These included a summer schedule that surrenders the prime months of the season to the Big Bash League while squeezing the Shield and limited-overs tournaments into summer's opening and closing weeks, and CA's insistence that domestic sides place their ambitions for silverware behind the need to develop international players.
Sutherland has clearly wearied of any criticism related to the schedule, which this year had Australia's ODI team in India until after England arrived to prepare for the Ashes while also turning the domestic limited-overs competition into a kind of pre-season carnival at Sydney club grounds. He stressed the BBL was intended not to raise greater commercial revenue for CA but to build a new audience that would ensure the game's continued survival.
"There weren't actually a lot of players who are playing in the Test team in Brisbane who were actually in India," Sutherland said of the schedule. "At the same time there were a lot of players who were back here playing, who have been able to play in the first couple of rounds of Shield cricket and had a really good preparation. We've had a lot more cricket than England have over the last couple of months, so don't tell me we haven't had a good preparation because England have hardly played."
England had originally been slated to face a NSW XI composed of players not needed in the concurrent Sheffield Shield round: to all intents and purposes, a Second XI. However pressure applied by the ECB chief executive David Collier resulted in a selection of cricketers being pulled from each Shield squad to create an invitational team, much to the dismay of numerous state officials, who wondered aloud at why CA had been so accommodating to their opponents. Pat Howard, the team performance manager, has stated that reciprocal treatment will be afforded Australia on the 2015 Ashes tour.
The match is being played on turf less green than it might have been in another season, as one of the other major CA changes for 2013-14 is a greater emphasis on ensuring domestic pitches reflect the conditions more likely to be seen at Test match level. The first two rounds of the competition have been characterised by the most amenable batting surfaces seen in some years, after Sutherland and Howard directed state associations and their curators to shave off the grassier extremes seen in recent seasons.
"The fundamental thing for us is Shield cricket is not about determining who the champion state team is, that is incidental," Sutherland said. "The real thing about Shield cricket is it needs to prepare cricketers for international cricket and particularly Test cricket and therefore the environment in which they're playing should be as much like Test cricket as possible. We don't want those pitches to be barren roads; we want the Gabba pitch to be like the first day pitch of a Gabba Test match.
"I'm not in any way downplaying the importance of creating a competitive environment, but we are investing perhaps $30 million a year in Sheffield Shield cricket and ultimately what we want is a competitive environment where we can drive cricketers to learn how to be successful.
"There was a temptation to chase the outright result to get six points to climb the Shield ladder and to some extent that is natural to want to be the winning team to qualify for the final. I stand by the comment that what we want is a really strong competitive Shield environment that delivers Test cricketers who can play winning cricket for Australia."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here