When first class gets big-bashed

Mitchell Marsh, alternating between T20 and Test cricket, struggled to find his bearings in Melbourne.

As India closed in on victory over Australia on the fourth day of the Boxing Day Test, Shane Warne made a comment that would have been met with great disdain in the Indian context.

The leg-spinning great demanded that D’Arcy Short be given a Test debut in the final Test here at the SCG. It’s surprising for more than one reason. Short last played a first-class game almost a month ago where he picked up scores of 42 and five; before that lone four-day game he had played four T20Is and after that had appeared in as many Big Bash League matches.

If Australian cricket hadn’t been pushed to the pits it finds itself in at this stage following the Sandpaper-gate, no one would have thought about giving Short a Test cap even in his wildest dreams. But these are desperate times and Australia are getting ever more desperate. Beyond the current world-class attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon they will find it hard to get right replacements in bowling, and their Test batting talent is barren.

It’s a sad story of a near-collapse of a robust first-class structure that was once envied the world over. Just imagine India sacrificing the primacy of Ranji Trophy for the sake of the Indian Premier League. All hell would have broken loose with the media and the former cricketers going up in arms about such an ill-advised move. But that’s exactly what has happened in Australia. Their first-class tournament – Sheffield Shield – has been stopped half-way through to accommodate BBL.

This is exactly why they have been forced to pick replacements either from performances based on T20 games or first-class runs scored almost a month ago. Even the best of players – unless you are a Virat Kohli -- struggle to seamlessly adapt from one format to another, especially if it is from longer version to shorter version, and the current Australian batsmen are far from international quality.

Mitchell Marsh, who was booed by the Melbourne crowd, went to play BBL match for Perth Scorchers between the second and third Test and Australian captain Tim Paine said that’s how “modern cricket is” when asked about this strange arrangement.

Similarly, Peter Handscomb, who was dropped after the first two Tests, has gone back to BBL to rediscover his form and there can’t be a more bizarre arrangement.

And what’s even more inexplicable is the fact that everyone here seems to have made peace with Cricket Australia’s step without an iota of protest.

India have the best and biggest T20 league in the world but despite the moolah it brings for the BCCI, the Board has never compromised its domestic calendar. There may have been a switch in the scheduling of national one-day and T20 events, but white ball cricket has never overlapped with red ball cricket.  

It’s been 10 years since IPL kicked-off in grand fashion in Bengaluru and until recently many former cricketers from India and in England and Australia accused the BCCI of paving the way for the demise of Test cricket. In the last four years, no team has done more for the well-being of Test cricket than India. They now have five-Test series against England -- except the Ashes no series involves more than four matches – at both home and away and play four-Test series against Australia every two years. From 2014-15 series Down Under to the Melbourne Test last month, India have played 49 Tests, averaging almost a Test a month. Not for bad for a country that has been accused of being indifferent to Test cricket. And while no one is saying they are the latest ‘invincibles’ of world cricket, there is no denying their intent to earn that distinction.

There was a time when too many teams in India’s domestic cricket were believed to be an obstacle in screening the right talent as it led to a diluted structure. India now have 37 teams from this season, and looking at the way the team is performing, it seems more the merrier!    

 

 

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When first class gets big-bashed

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