T20 cash hits Australian batting - Mark Taylor
Even as he performed his stage-managed role to add gravitas and happy history to Australia's Ashes squad announcement, the former captain Mark Taylor cut through the mystique to state how Twenty20's easy money had contributed to the national side's poverty of Test match batting options.
Taylor and his successor Steve Waugh were present in Sydney to provide a Cricket Australia-approved reminder that teams past had flown to England with modest billing but returned home as heroes. The spirit of the 1989 Ashes tourists, unfancied almost as much as Michael Clarke's team but ultimately the inflictors of a right royal 4-0 hammering, was invoked as though a holy rite.
But Taylor was blunt in saying the hunger of Australia's cricketers for Tests, particularly their batsmen, had been sapped by the riches on offer in T20, specifically at the IPL currently buzzing across the subcontinent. Frank and clear-eyed as ever, Taylor said no amount of wistful talk about baggy green caps and representing one's country could counter the cash on offer to players prepared to forego their best batting technique in order to chase sixes and switch-hits in India.
"If you look at the IPL and the money that's going around there, that's got to be a big influence I think. As much as they all say 'Test cricket's the No. 1', a million dollars is very distracting," Taylor told ESPNcricinfo. "You look at Glenn Maxwell getting US$1 million to go play in the IPL and he's not even playing. How do you compete with that?
"How do you tell a young player making the next Australian Test team is more important? Knock back an IPL contract and spend two years working on your batting technique to get in for a Test match, and throw away $2 million? It's easier said than done."
There was some disquiet earlier this month when the list of CA contracts omitted numerous Ashes aspirants, partly due to a system that recognises all formats. Taylor said the system had improved a good deal since 1989, or even the late 1990s, when an industrial dispute with the board pushed the players to the brink of a strike. But he still doubted how any national contract could now dissuade a young player from considering the IPL's riches ahead of Test cricket's more archaic sense of loyalty.
"The idea of the contracts system going back to my time was to give players security, and they've now got that," he said. "I think the CA contracts and even the state contracts give players good security, much more than there was back in the 1990s, and that's what should happen.
"But I'm not sure any of these contracts can ever make up for an IPL contract. There's probably no security in the IPL, but if you get a $2 million contract you don't need a lot of security. And that's impossible to compete with."
In 1989, Taylor accumulated no fewer than 839 runs in the six Tests, while Waugh crashed cavalier hundreds at Headingley and Lord's and returned home with a series average well beyond 100. They were hungry young batsmen, offered only the most rudimentary of playing contracts, and still playing at a time when numerous Australian cricketers still held down day jobs.
Notwithstanding the current crop's vastly different financial circumstances, Taylor challenged the batsmen selected other than Clarke to rise above their mediocre records and make the sorts of scores that would make a statement about Australia's intentions, much as he and Waugh had done in Leeds.
"Trent Bridge and Lord's, the first two Tests, are very important," Taylor said. "If you go back to '89 we won at Headingley where no one gave us a chance, then we won at Lord's. All of a sudden you're 2-0 up. If Australia can start something like that, it will start with someone like David Warner or Phil Hughes, or Cowan, or Watson, making 150, a big score.
"At Headingley I made 136, Steve made 177 and AB [Allan Border] made a quickfire 66. It'll start with someone almost out of the blue making a big score and saying 'we're here to compete'. That's what this side needs to do. Look at Warner, Watson, Cowan, Hughes. Four opening batsmen really, they're all averaging in the 30s. That won't get it done. One or two of them over there have got to average 70 in this series or more."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here