While it was circumstance rather than self-development that brought Cameron Bancroft and David Warner to Darwin, their appearances in the Northern Territory Strike League have brought into sharp focus the gathering potential of the month-long limited-overs tournament.
Warner wound up his flying visit to the Top End today with a diligently disciplined 93 from 139 balls, top score for his City Cyclones outfit in their 18-run win against Desert Blaze deprived (due to injury) of their drawcard, Bancroft.
SCORECARD: City Cylones v Desert Blaze
It was an uncharacteristic knock from the former Test vice-captain who, like Bancroft, is currently serving a suspension from international and state cricket for involvement in ball tampering during the volatile Test tour to South Africa earlier this year.
On a pitch that offered slow bounce due mainly to surface moisture present when play started at 10am, he struggled to find the boundary against some tight bowling and, after an hour’s play, had managed an unlikely 20 from 50 balls faced with barely a boundary.
However, a change from protective helmet to cloth cap at the drinks break seemed to clear his mind as well as free his arms, and resulted in a pair of sixes from the next over by local leg spinner Dylan Mullen.
Following that flourish, runs again became hard to hew and Mullen was unlucky not to claim the wicket of the ex-Test opener, with an outside edge flying safely past forlorn catchers and a tough, diving chance turfed at long-on.
Eventually it was a full ball from round-arm slinger Dean Enniss and a stunning snare from Melbourne sub-district keeper Karl Mayne that ended Warner’s innings seven runs shy of what would have been a deserved hundred given the struggles he endured earlier in the day.
Bancroft was absent from the fixture, suffering the effects of the blow he sustained yesterday that left him with damaged cartilage in his trachea, and which prematurely ended his involvement in next weekend’s final round of matches.
Given that voice rest is part of the healing process for his bruised larynx, the potential damage from barking instructions to a batting partner coupled with the risk of being struck again was deemed too great a risk.
However, as the scorecards from this weekend’s round of games in the four-team tournament clearly show, there is ample out-of-town and local talent involved in the Strike League to sustain its profile and prominence even when the headline acts have departed.
Queensland-listed batter Sam Truloff scored a sparkling 114 from 110 balls faced for Northern Tide on the ground adjacent to Marrara’s main cricket venue this morning.
His Tide teammate, and Tasmania rising star Jake Doran, posted 56 in a 134-run third-wicket stand with Truloff, on the same pitch that South Australia’s Kelvin Smith (133 off 107) and New South Wales’ Ben Abbott (147 off 133) dominated yesterday.
Truloff’s ton set up the Tide for a timely 67-run win against Southern Storm , aided by Victoria paceman Jake Reed’s efforts with the ball in making a couple of early breakthroughs in the Storm’s pursuit before finishing with 2-37.
And any suggestion that bat has too readily ruled ball was challenged by hostile spells from Tasmania and Hobart Hurricanes-signed quick Aaron Summers, who claimed 3-48 from nine mostly express overs against the Tide yesterday.
That included a brutal first-ball bouncer at Tides coach Udara Weerasinghe that struck the 36-year-old Sri Lankan flush on the left glove as he instinctively shielded his face, the resultant fracture in his hand ruling him out for the remainder of the competition.
It’s the opportunities that the Strike League provides for state players looking for a launch pad into the coming summer, or for up-and-coming talents hoping to be noticed by state talent managers and KFC Big Bash League clubs that presents a breakthrough for Australian cricket.
As an example of the former category, South Australia opener Jake Weatherald and newly capped Australia limited-overs player D’Arcy Short both excelled during last year’s Strike League and then took that form into break-out seasons in the subsequent summer.
Weatherald finished as fourth-highest runs scorer in the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield season and scored a memorable century in the Adelaide Strikers’ first KFC BBL title success at Adelaide Oval.
Short was named player of the BBL tournament earlier this year for his output as an opener with the Hobart Hurricanes, and has since been rewarded with selection in Australia’s T20 and ODI outfits.
The case study for a player using the Strike League to raise profile among recruiters was Perth-born Summers, whose results in the NT competition and then the Strike League enabled him to come to the attention of former Test quick Ryan Harris, now a development coach at the National Cricket Centre.
The 23-year-old made his BBL debut for the Hurricanes last summer, and also now holds a rookie contract with Cricket Tasmania.
NT Cricket Chief Executive Joel Morrison said the ongoing evolution of the Strike League meant it now offered a quality playing and training experience for players throughout Australia and from overseas who might, in the past, have turned to England’s cricket leagues for out-of-season game time.
“We have a really powerful cricket product that is attractive to players from all around the country, and all round the world,” Morrison told cricket.com.au today.
“And that’s enormously beneficial for us, because we have our young, local Territory cricketers playing and training alongside elite cricketers for a whole month.
“There’s no other tournament in Australia, and possibly the world that allows local club cricketers to spend a month training alongside elite professional cricketers.
“In addition, it also means we have a winter competition that can serve the rest of the country, whether it’s players, or teams, or umpires or coaches who can come up here up for experience in ideal weather on first-class standard pitches and outfields.
“You no longer have to leave our shores if you want to keep playing quality level cricket during winter and with visa restrictions, it’s getting a lot harder now for players who aren’t professionals to go over and play in England.
“So we believe the Strike League offers enormous benefits for players who are young and developing, or who are on the cusp of breaking into the professional ranks.”
The final round of Strike League 50-over matches will be played at Marrara in Darwin next Saturday, with the winner (decided by the following day’s grand final) to become the first side to qualify for the inaugural national Premier T20 tournament to be held in March.