T20 eroding Test skills

By Brutas Mudcake

Cricket fans this week have been asking can you have your cake and eat it as they search for answers for Australian cricket’s batting woes. They’ve also been asking what indeed is the cake in Australian cricket these days and what is the icing. Is test cricket the cake or is T20 the cake? And are they eating away at each other?

There’s been a gnawing feeling amongst cricket fans that the prevalence of T20 cricket has eroded our team’s skills at the longer form of the game though we’ve not really ever quantified it. This week we’ve been quick to blame, when the Lord’s embarrassment coincided with fixture release and promotions for BBL. For traditionalists this was a metaphorical pissing on the grave.

So can we lay blame at T20 cricket? Or more pointedly can we blame at how we’ve rolled out T20 cricket in Australia?

A disclaimer first, this is in no way an argument against T20 cricket. It undoubtedly has its place, wins the sport new fans and opens up an important revenue stream that does not involving sucking at the teat of Indian cricket.

But does its current setup directly affect our players performance in Test cricket? The man in the street says yes, and the man in the street would be right. Both the feel of the game and statistics back this up.

Anyone who has played any level of cricket can tell you that batting ‘form’ is something of great fragility and preciousness. If you’re batting well, you just want to keep batting in the same way, at the same rhythm and the same pace for ever. Batting more than perhaps any other sporting endeavour is one of hypnotic state, where else can a sport involve a day or more of one individual effort. More than any other endeavour it’s something that is hampered most by a break in rhythm.

Witness Michael Clarke’s run feast against India two summer’s back, when the best are going they are untouchable, but even the best become mere mortals when the rhythm is broken.

Picture this, would Clarke have been able to continue his run if halfway through that series there was a break for a month of T20 cricket? He may well have, but we would all thin it unlikely that he could pick up where he left off in what is a very different form of the game. Now consider that the equivalent is what the current system is asking of all batsman outside of our top 7 to do in a Sheffield Shield cricket season.

To take the comparison a step further, we understand that T20 cricket is a maximised version of long-form cricket but realistically a successful Test century may only include 2 or 3 identical shots to what would be played in a substantial T20 innings. An analogy in AFL football terms may be the ‘checkside’ kick from the boundary. Yes it’s still a ‘kick’ but it’s completed with different actions and mindset (only kicking for goal), and may occur once or twice a match. Now what if you took an AFL player and halfway through his season took a break for two months to play games of football where only checkside kicks were used, with training geared around this too. Could a player step back into normal football after this break and execute with the same efficiency he previously did. Extreme perhaps , but no wonder we are having players come into Test cricket who look muddled.

So that’s the feel of it, but there are statistics that back up this gut-feel.

Let’s take a look at domestic first-class cricket in over the last 14 seasons, neatly falling into two seven year periods, 1999-2000 –2005-06 (before T20) and 2006-07 – present (after T20). T20 cricket took on its current round robin form in 2006-07 where Shield took a break and since then has exponentially grown, in 2013-14 Shield cricket will break for the best part of 2 months.

The raw statistics on Australian first-class runs figures are revealing, even when discounting any batsman that played Test cricket during that season (that incidentally only discounts on the pre T20 front).

A 700 run season would be seen as a good Shield cricket season, however not outstanding. Since 2006-07 there have been 52 such seasons in Shield/Australia A cricket, compared to 76 for the period before, a large discrepancy but it gets more stark. Given that T20 cricket has grown specifically in the last 3 seasons with the transition to franchise models two season ago, an average of 4.67 700+ run seasons have been achieved as compared to 10.36 in the 11 season previous. That roughly equates to more than double the genuine candidates for test batting spots prior to T20’s growth in importance.

If we narrow the figures to what we term an ‘excellent’first-class season its gets even more lopsided. A 1000 runs season is an excellent one that historically demands Australian selection. In the period 1999-2000 – 2005-06 there were 21 of these seasons achieved. From 2006-07 there have been just five.

More damning is the fact that there have been no 1000 run seasons achieved in the last 4 seasons. The 5 that have occurred since T20 cricket started were scored in seasons 06-07, 07-08 and 08-09 and were scored by Chris Rogers (2), Michael Klinger, David Hussey, Simon Katich. All of these players made their first-class debuts in the 1990s, except Hussey in 2002-03 (still well before T20 cricket). So as you can see there has not been a batsman who has made his debut since T20 cricket (or in fact the last ten years of first class cricket) who has scored 1000 runs in a season. All this in a time when supposedly our coaching resources, talent identification and technology have improved. There really can only be one answer, and that is a shift in batting focus that T20 has brought.

A portion of all our players coaching, training, playing and time resources has gone away from long-form cricket to T20 cricket so should we have expected anything different? If you put less time into something you are not going to get a better result.

So what to do.

As stated before the answer is not to blow up the BBL, but the answer is giving continuity in long-from cricket to those that aspire to it. The case of George Bailey who should be one of those batsman scoring 700+ seasons has been highlighted by many before, no continuity in batting = no runs.

It has been argued that T20 cricket has not hindered England and India in combining both form. Debatable as that assertion is they do seem to have greater structure in their seasons that do not interupt the talent factory that shoudl be first-class cricket.

An example is Cameron White, who it seems has no future in Test cricket and has embraced T20 cricket. Should he even be playing Shield cricket? Maybe it’s time to separate T20 and long-from players completely apart from the odd-freak and have Shield cricket running while the BBL is on. Play the matches in regional venues and keep the continuity going for those that aspire to Test level. Perhaps it’s an Under 25s competition in this period, but either way if a promising young player is having a bumper season on the fringe of selection we are doing nothing for him by having him play T20 cricket or no cricket for two months. The muddled season is just reflected in the mindset of our aspiring batsman right now.

Table: 1000 run, 700 totals over last 14 seasons

 
Year 1000+ 700+
1999-2000

2

12

2000-01

6

8

2001-02

3

7

2002-03

1

11

2003-04

5

16

2004-05

3

11

2005-06

1

11

2006-07

1

13

2007-08

2

10

2008-09

2

8

2009-10

0

7

2010-11

0

2

2011-12

0

8

2012-13

0

4

 

 

Comments

  1. The Wrap says:

    T20 eroding Test skills. Oh really?

    And I don’t want to sound like someone in a scarlet & gold blazer – but it’s just not cricket Old Chap.

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