Australian cricket is copping it from all angles at the moment. It tends to happen when you are not winning.
It is one thing to be criticised from the outside, we expect the English (and Australian) media to do that but it is another thing altogether when the criticism comes from within.
In recent weeks, former first-class cricketers, Theo Doropolous and Dirk Nannes have also had their say.
The basis of their criticism is that the changes to the playing conditions of the second eleven competition in 2008, when restrictions to the number of over 23 players were first introduced, is the main reason for the parlous state in which Australian cricket finds itself.
I wish it was that simple.
The restrictions were introduced by Cricket Australia’s Playing Conditions Committee in 2008 on the back of evidence that showed that there were only nine batsmen under the age of 23 on State contract lists. The same research found that it was taking four years on average, for a player to graduate from the U19 program onto a State contract list.
With an ageing batting line up in the Australian team at the time, alarm bells began to ring so it was decided that, as the States were not self-monitoring the situation, Cricket Australia had to step in.
The result was that a restriction was placed on the number of over 23 players playing in what was then called the Future’s League; only three players of 12 were allowed to be over 23.
The impact was that the average age of players on State contracts dropped considerably over the next two years.
After two years of the restrictions, the States and the Players Association mounted an argument that, by limiting the number of experienced players, the competition was being weakened.
In response to the argument, the restrictions were relaxed for the 20011-12 season to allow six players over 23 to play in the Futures League competition.
This is the third season of a three year commitment to those restrictions which will be reviewed at the end of this domestic season.
I have no idea what will happen at the end of the three years but I do know that having the restrictions in place has had a profound effect on the number of U23 players being contracted by the States.
This season, there are 17 batsmen under the age of 23 on State contracts. That is an increase of 90% in the five years of the restrictions, even accounting for the relaxation of adding a further three over 23 year old players after the first two years of operation.
Twelve of the fifteen players from the successful 2010 U19 World Cup winning squad graduated to State contracts in the 2010/11 season and thirteen players from the U19 team that lost in the final to India in 2012 went onto State contracts in 2012/13.
When you consider that Pat Cummins (NSW), Ashton Agar (WA) and James Muirhead (VIC) could have played in that final had they not been injured, the result is even better.
I would argue that not having the restrictions in place was hurting Australia more than the restrictions are. In fact, everything that I know about the development process for producing talent reinforces this.
The Doropolous and Nannes argument is that experienced players are needed to make the competition vital. I agree with them; if they are the right players with the right type of experience who can provide some good competition and mentor the youngsters on their journey.
My reservation is that experience alone is over rated. In fact, a lot of players who have been around for any length of time and who are not progressing in their own game may not be the right players at all.
Just because someone has played for a long time it does not mean they have a lot of experience. As Stephen Covey the American educator, writer and speaker believed, “many times when somebody has a lot of experience, what they really have is the same experience repeated over and over again.”
I see this in cricket regularly; players who front up each season and practice and play the same way year after year. They don’t appreciate that, if they want to get better, they have to actually learn from their experiences.
Experience is important but so is youthful enthusiasm and eagerness; when one has a desire to learn, one creates experience at a higher level.
The other thing that the research into excellence tells us is that it is not practice that counts; it is in fact deliberate practice that makes one better.
Deliberate practice is defined as practicing specific things at match intensity. Many of the players that I see practice what they are already good at and at intensity much lower than game intensity.
The biggest thing that has happened to Australian cricket in the 50 years that I have been involved is that international players do not play as much domestic cricket as they once did and since State contracts have been around State players do not play as much club cricket as they once did.
This is nobody’s fault but what this means is that the next generation is not being tested by the best in the land as they progress through the levels. This is a much bigger problem than a few journeymen missing out on second XI cricket.
It is unlikely that international players are going to play a big part in domestic cricket under the current international program. In recognition of this, Cricket Australia has boosted its investment in U19 cricket, the Future’s League and the Australia A program.
This year the Australian U19 team has toured New Zealand for a series of 50-over matches, has had a tri-series of 50-over games with India and New Zealand in Darwin and will tour India for a quad-series with India, South Africa and Zimbabwe in September/October, in preparation for the U19 World Cup in Dubai next February.
Australia A has had series in England, Ireland, Scotland, Zimbabwe and South Africa this year as part of an expanded program.
What this means is that our next generation of players is being exposed to higher levels of competition in a variety of conditions in an attempt to accelerate their learning and prepare them for even higher levels of competition.
Allied with the AIS program at the CA Centre of Excellence facility in Brisbane and other programs which offer playing experience in foreign conditions, CA has responded to the things that have impacted the Australian production line in recent years.
I can understand why players, who are making a good living, want to maintain their position on State contracts but this can’t be at the expense of clogging up the system.
Four years is much too long for players to take to get from youth cricket to senior cricket. One does not get good at one level by becoming good at a lower level. They need to get to the level at which they show potential as quickly as their talent allows or they will wither on the vine like good fruit.
We only have six States, so it is imperative that we have more than nine batsmen under 23 at any given time on State lists or the pain we are currently experiencing will be nothing compared with what we might expect in the future.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia.