In theory the idea to include a Cricket Australia XI for the ongoing Matador Cup was a great concept, but in hindsight the blueprint was all wrong.
Yes, justifiably, we’re only two matches into the existence of the new CA XI – a two-year trial project side – but still, it’s already difficult to vindicate what good can to be gained from record thrashings at the hands of international-laden New South Wales and Victorian sides.
Sure, exposure to international-quality opposition isn’t a bad thing for this group of youngsters, but will they really benefit from being overwhelmed by the superior qualities of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson on a regular basis?
While no one was expecting the CA XI to pull up any trees in their first couple of outings, to be bowled out for just 59 and 79 in their two innings just goes to show the vast bridge in quality and more importantly experience between themselves and the rest of the field.
The team that took to the paddock for Monday’s fixture with New South Wales consisted of an average age of just 21. Five of those men were making their List-A debuts with Ryan Lees also debuting against Victoria in the second fixture. While the CA XI boasted just 67 List-A appearances between them, the Victorian’s collective count was 884, in fact six members of their side had individually played more matches than the entire CA XI playing eleven.
Furthermore, Victoria included ten players with international experience with a further two in Peter Siddle and Clint McKay who couldn’t make the side. Fawad Ahmed, an Ashes tourist just two months ago, wasn’t even included in the squad.
Although the postponement of Australia’s Test tour to Bangladesh has strengthened the overall standard of the Matador Cup, it has also heavily disrupted the preparations of the teams with players selected for that tour. This left many players unsure of whom they were going to represent up until a few days before the competition began on Monday.
For the CA XI squad; Will Bosisto, Marcus Harris and Lees were not part of the original squad, while Jimmy Peirson was sent back to Queensland for injury cover before returning when Joe Burns was declared available.
One also wonders if the squad selected was anything near as strong as what Cricket Australia National Talent Manager Greg Chappell had envisaged before its original make up. He practically said as much upon the squad’s announcement last month:
“There are probably three or four players that we thought we might have in the CA XI side who have gone on and been selected by their states and would expect to play prominent roles in their state squad.
“So maybe we have frightened some of the states into thinking they needed to pick some of their young players and, if that’s the case, that’s terrific.”
But while captain Bosisto was adamant that his side would improve in their final four fixtures, it’s hard not to foresee further mismatches if the squad remains the same.
“We’ve got the talent, we just haven’t performed to the best of our ability,” said Bosisto after top-scoring with 21 against Victoria.
“I’ve heard people say ‘do you need an experienced player in your line-up?’ and I guess that would be one approach.
“But I think the whole idea of having a Cricket Australia XI in the tournament is to give 11 young guys exposure and the opportunity to see what it’s like at the next level and what we need to do to be able to perform at this level.”
It’s abundantly clear the CA XI could benefit from further guidance in their side – starting with the inclusion of a few more experienced faces along the way – something in which Cricket Australia will inevitably look into at the conclusion of this year’s tournament.
Surely more could have been done to include the likes of veteran legspinner Fawad Ahmed and batsman Mark Cosgrove who were both omitted from their respective State squads.
Cosgrove, who has just returned from the UK after captaining Leicestershire in the County Championship, could certainly have offered plenty of support and guidance to the young CA XI squad. Likewise, could names such as David Hussey or Chris Rogers – still active players – have been sort out by Cricket Australia to play a role in the development of a youthful and inexperienced CA XI outfit?
Another route Cricket Australia could go down is to follow a concept derived by the ECB. The model was based under the name ‘Unicorns,’ and was a team made up of the best Minor Counties players along with promising youngsters and un-contracted County pros. By including Minor Counties players, the most of whom have at some point played County cricket, the team at least had some experience and knowhow to guide them through the difficult times that often occur against stronger opposition.
While the Unicorns no longer participate in the English one-day cup tournament – they instead exist in the County second XI competition – they are a model in which Cricket Australia could at the very least acknowledge going forward.
In the meanwhile it is hoped that the current CA XI will start to show greater signs of improvement as the tournament progresses into its second week – although it won’t get any easier as they face a Tasmanian side, containing three World Cup winners in their ranks, next.
Improvement is needed, if only just for the creditability of the tournament or else the CA XI’s name could one day become a trivia question like that of the Canberra Comets.