Ferguson eyes next adventure after summer of setbacks
Former Redbacks veteran exploring T20 options, with heart set on more Big Bash and possibly some coaching consultancy roles
15 May 2021, 10:17 AM AEST
Even by his own luckless standards, Callum Ferguson must have wondered what he'd done to deserve such an aestas horribilis.
Having entered 2020-21 believing a bountiful summer might re-float his stocks in the eyes of national selectors, Ferguson found himself left out of South Australia's team for the opening Marsh Sheffield Shield fixture and within weeks had announced his retirement from first-class cricket.
Three months later he was dumped by KFC BBL team Sydney Thunder where he had captained for the previous two seasons, a decision that initially left him "angry and ticked off" although he admits that reaction has since softened to disappointment.
"I don't agree with the decision they fell on and how it all wrapped up, probably as much as anything the communication of it, and I'm certainly really disappointed with the way it ended," Ferguson said this week of his split with the Thunder.
"But I'm certainly very grateful for the time I had there and hopefully there's another adventure and another experience on the horizon, and I'll be looking forward to that."
The 36-year-old then opted not to pursue off-season opportunities in the UK where he played several seasons with Worcestershire, and instead targeted places in franchise T20 competitions elsewhere in the world in order to maximise time at home with wife Rhiannon and their young daughter, Layla.
But having been drafted by Lahore Qalanders for next month's scheduled resumption of the Pakistan Super League (the competition was suspended in March due to breaches of COVID-19 biosecurity protocols), he's now unsure where or if the remainder of that tournament will be played.
Reported plans for the PSL to be completed in the United Arab Emirates have been thrown into doubt following this week's news that the UAE has placed a ban on travellers arriving from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh due to the escalating pandemic problems on the subcontinent.
Ferguson, who was to be joined by fellow Australians Usman Khawaja, Joe Burns and James Faulkner for the second phase of the PSL, is hoping to learn in coming days whether the competition will revert to Pakistan where matches might be confined to Karachi.
"I'm looking forward to hearing a bit more from the owners and organisers as to what it might look like travelling to Pakistan, or to the UAE if that's where it's to be played," Ferguson told cricket.com.au having noted with interest recent problems to beset the Indian Premier League.
"Just to know what the bio-secure bubble looks like and what quarantine requirements will be on the way over, all that sort of stuff.
"Once I find out a bit more then I'll be able to come up with a stance on it and make a final decision, but I think given what's happened in the IPL it throws a few concerns at you."
Not that Ferguson is easily fazed.
Twice when he seemed poised to win an extended run in the national team (2009 and 2015) he suffered serious knee injuries, and when his Test call-up came it coincided with Australia's humbling loss to South Africa at Hobart in 2016 that saw several players axed in the fall-out, Ferguson among them.
The quiet resolve he summoned to bounce back from those disappointments now manifests itself in a belief he has a couple more seasons in him as a player at BBL level, in the hope of securing the domestic T20 title he missed with SA in 2010-11 when he was on Australia duties.
"I'm keen to go around again in the Big Bash, for another year or two," he said this week.
"I'm still really enjoying it, I feel like I've been playing well, my numbers have been pretty good over the last three years so I'm hopeful that someone will be keen to get me on board and I'll be keen to contribute to a title hopefully.
"My manager did field a few enquiries towards the back end of the season with list managers keeping an eye on who would be coming out of contract at the end of the year.
"Just how much substance is attached to those enquiries is hard for me to know because I wasn't fielding them myself."
If the opportunity to keep playing is restricted to stints in T20 franchise competitions in Pakistan, the Caribbean and possibly Canada, Ferguson is interested in exploring coaching options although he's not sure he wants to pursue it as a full-time career.
He enjoyed the mentoring work he undertook with the young Thunder squad and believes the strong relationships he developed with emerging players at state level would hold him in good stead should he look to transition into an off-field job in years to come.
But even though SA's men's team doesn't currently include a specialist batting coach, with Ferguson's long-time mentor Greg Blewett vacating the role recently due to his expanded media commitments, he feels it's too soon to return to the Redbacks fold.
"If I was to go into coaching full-time – and at this point I'm not 100 per cent sure I want to do that – I'd always thought that post-playing I'd like to have a few years' separation from the playing group," Ferguson said.
"In the immediate future, I'm probably more interested in some consultant-type coaching, whether it's with a young up-and-coming talent or individuals that are looking for someone to bounce ideas off and work with one-on-one."
As a keen observer of the game whose insights have already been sought as an expert commentator, Ferguson noted with interest former Test captain Greg Chappell's thoughts on revamping the men's domestic program in Australia published on cricket.com.au earlier this week.
While Chappell proposed a full 10-match Sheffield Shield season be programmed prior to the BBL beginning in December, Ferguson believes a similar approach should be taken to the Marsh One-Day Cup competition.
Ferguson, a member of Australia's 2009 ICC Champions Trophy-winning team, would like to see a return to a full domestic 50-over competition in which every state plays each other home and away.
The 10-round one-day format was abandoned in 2011-12 before being re-launched in tournament mode with a reduced number of games that meant states played as few as five preliminary games (2018-19) before the grand finalists were decided.
Scheduling problems wrought by COVID-19 last summer meant only 14 matches were played across the entire tournament, and Ferguson believes an expanded domestic 50-over competition would enhance Australia's prospects at ODI and T20I World Cups.
Echoing Chappell's thoughts that scope exists to begin the Shield season as early as August or September in northern Australia, Ferguson claims one-day games could also be fixtured in the Top End and then scheduled at Test venues further south as weather improved.
"Over the last few years, I've been thinking we could get more one-day cricket in before the start of the traditional Australian summer dates by going up north," he said.
"I feel we've probably left ourselves a bit short in 50-over cricket over the last six or seven years, since they (Cricket Australia) started the tournament format.
"I do want us to play more one-day cricket on the major grounds, but on top of that I think we could also play more matches in the traditional pre-season period to get games into younger guys and help the T20 players as well develop 50-over skills.
"That would mean more Powerplay overs, more middle overs and more death overs for guys to gain experience in and to shape their craft.
"Whenever Australia goes to a World Cup the expectation is we're going to win it, but if we're going to challenge for trophies we need to have played enough of the ODI or T20I formats to be able to compete.
"Other countries that have been successful in recent times have played more of those matches than us at domestic level, and that's got to be a concern for us and something that we need to rectify in my eyes."
Having skippered the Thunder before and after the introduction of last summer's rule changes, Ferguson is also well placed to provide an assessment of their respective merits.
The veteran of 150 top-level T20 appearances across international cricket and tournaments in Australia, India and the UK, he welcomed the BBL's introduction of a two-over Power Surge that a batting team could call in the second half of their innings thereby restricting their opponents to two outfielders.
However, he was not so keen on the revised Bash Boost criteria that awarded a bonus point to the team ahead on scoring comparisons midway through each match's second innings, nor the X-Factor initiative that allowed changes to the on-field XI after the 10th over of the first innings.
"I didn't mind the Power Surge, I thought that could be used tactically and we saw it could be hugely beneficial to some batting sides but could also cause a batting side to implode," he said.
"I'm still not sold on the bonus point at the halfway mark, I'd rather see a side gain a bonus point at the end of the game after they've chased down a score quickly.
"In 50-over cricket you get a bonus point at 40 overs, so maybe in the BBL there's a bonus point for finishing the game inside 15 or 17 overs or whatever and completely obliterating the opposition.
"I feel like a bonus point should come your way for winning, and I don't like the idea of potentially sacrificing your game for a bonus point.
"And the X-Factor player, I don't really like that one either.
"I think we used it once for the tournament, and I just don't think it needs to be in the game."
He also holds reservations about the proposed player draft that has been mooted for international players nominating for BBL|11.
While the likely introduction and associated details of how a draft might operate are yet to be confirmed, Ferguson voiced his fear the allocation of overseas talent via a draft pool might reduce teams' ability to hand-pick players for specific roles within their set-up.
"My major concern is it will be to the detriment of the quality of competition with teams not necessarily being able to plan and build their lists quite as thoroughly as they would have in the past," he said.
"To really make sure they've got the right skills set and the right personality for their group.
"What we might end up seeing is a side that really needed a spin-bowling allrounder ending up with a batter who can bowl a bit of spin because someone else got their preferred player first.
"Or they're chasing a top-three batter but all they could get hold of through the draft was a number five or six finisher.
"I feel like it will be a much more difficult process to try and put your list together effectively, and what we don't want is overseas players sitting on the pine because teams have got more locals that suit specific roles."