ACT Comets – time to bring them back?

In a recent lecture [to a bunch of Knackers, and the world in general], Gideon Haigh said he believed we are witnessing the fourth major epoch in cricket as we know it.

Each previous period instigated significant change to cricket. The first was when English cricket ‘died’ in 1882 and the Ashes cremated. The second was Bodyline 1932/33. And the third was instigated by Kerry Packer after he had ‘the pyjama dream’ and funded World Series Cricket in the 70’s.

The zeitgeist now, like WSC, is again a change in the length of the game (T20 cricket), characterised by its speed and excitement: shorter games, loud music, scantly clad cheerleaders, fireworks (among other pyrotechnics) and money. Lots and lots of money.

Similar trends are occurring this time around; administrators are excited, purists frustrated and kids are blissfully ignorant of the greater, darker forces at play. Increasingly, up-and-coming cricketers are finding themselves pawns in what is becoming more a businessman’s and less the gentleman’s game. We have already seen change but the big question is; what more is to come?

Could there perhaps be positive change in the future of Australian cricket? Cricket Australia seem to be steering the ship, so why don’t we ask them?

Eleven years ago the Australian Cricket Board (ACB, now known as Cricket Australia) made the decision to remove the Canberra Comets from the Mercantile-Mutual Cup (now the Ryobi cup).

The contentious move was made three seasons after the Comet’s inclusion in the Cup in which Canberra struggled: in a desperate, 12th Man –esque situation, they contracted 38 year old, ex-international Merv Hughes.

At the time, CA said the ACT was regarded as a development region for the game and that “does not necessarily warrant inclusion in an elite competition.”

So the Comets were gone and the ACB kindly asked for them to continue to produce quality cricketers. What has become custom in the years since is more of a willingness among the states to trade players in the interest of a competitive edge.

As a consequence of these relative occurrences, the ACT has become a breeding ground for high quality cricketers only to have them ‘fly the coop’ when their ability surpasses the state’s competitive threshold.

In the past 24 months six 20-23 year old Canberran cricketers have done just that. Each player currently holds a state contract (rookie or full) among five different states. ACT Cricket is like horny parents; producing offspring so fast they’re left with no option but to send their kids off to boarding school once they grow out of their harrow sized bat.

Perhaps it’s time for those parents to build a bigger house. With sufficient schooling (a healthy club competition and wealth of talented coaches) already in place, it seems an ideal time for the Comets to make a comeback to first class cricket.

So could Canberra handle a state cricket team?

They certainly have the numbers. The first class listed players – Jason Floros  (20, QLD), Jason Behrendorff (20, WA), Nathan Lyon (23, SA), Ashton May (21, Tas), Ryan Carters (20, VIC) and Will Sheridan (23, VIC) – are building resumes worthy of an appreciative nod from some big name ex-players.

Greg Chappell for instance lauded Floros as a serious contender for an Australian batting post in the next few years. He has since made his shield debut. As has Carters, Lyon (who took an impressive 4/81 on debut against WA in February) and Sheridan.

Aside from these stand-outs there is the whole Futures League Comets team who won the Cup for the first time this season.

The travellers would have a lot to offer their home clubs and city if they had the support to be able to remain there. Instead they must move interstate and out of home to follow their desired career path.

Andrew Dawson, the director for high performance in the ACT admits this is a double edged sword. “It is hard moving out of home and learning how to cook and clean for yourself. But then again if you ask some of the lads they’ll probably say it’s the best thing that’s happened to them.” Behrendorff concurred; “It’s been an amazing experience. Training in a state squad, you can’t compare it. It’s so professional and you get a lot out of it.”

However the losses sustained by Canberra as their prize talent walks away is arguably the bigger issue here. For instance, when a state player gets a chance to play grade cricket – when they’re out of form or there’s a break in the calendar – the juniors at their home club don’t get a chance to be amongst the players who learned their craft in the same arena. What a benefit that would be – playing your 1st grade debut with Brad Haddin who’s back in town with his beloved Canberra Comets and wanted some grassroots time to work on his footwork. It’s a farfetched example but you get the point.

Is it not worth investing in a region responsible for so much talent just to increase the connection with its loyal stars? Sustainability is perhaps at stake here. Will Canberra continue to be willing to invest so much into its cricketers only to see them leave when they’re legal? Of course they will. Isn’t that something worth rewarding? Well that’s something Cricket Australia has to answer.


  1. Why not?

    It would be a very brave (or silly) person who argues that Tasmania has not added to the quality of first class cricket in Australia since entering.

    There is apparently another young ‘Punter’ like fourteen year old about to make an impact in Launceston. Alex Smith. Watch out for him.

  2. Tony Robb says

    as a Canberran of 35 years who has seen several national soccer sides, basketball sides baseball sides etc go down the gurgler I cannot see the ACT ever having the financial capacity to field a state side here. The kids will go where the money is whether that be interstate of overseas. Unless the ACB decided to suddenly throw money at it, which it wont. we would need a big benefactor and there arent many of them given how much money the Raiders etc such out of the town as it is. The ACT Govt has just burnt $4M on GWS so dont hold your breath there.
    its a pity because Manuka is such a great ground.
    Phantom. There nothing else to do in Tassie. Same here so maybe it might work.

  3. Sounds like Canberra is a bigger version of Wagga. Big country towns – yes, I’m classing Canberra as a country town; hate mail to the usual address – often yield good sportsmen. There is no reason why Canberra would not exhibit similar characteristics.

  4. TR,

    ‘nothing else to do in Tassie?’

    What about taking your sister to the pictures on Saturday night?

  5. Tony Robb says

    I know what your saying and yes Canberra does produce a lot of top class kids in many sports. But from experience, it the same group of kids who are good at athletics, footie, cricket, etc as they have the drive and natural ability. They are big fish in little ponds and dominate across a range of sports. I grew up in Wagga when Greg Brentnall played 1 grade AFL on Saturday then 1st grade League on Sunday. He had a choise between playing for South Melbourne or Canterbury. That just doesnt happen these day as recruiters expect a kid to be committed to one sport. Unless you name is Foloi that is who wouldn’t commit to waking up each morning without a sign on fee.

    With the onset of different junior academies in every sport I think we might see less and less of the type of sports people who grow up in country towns and moved into the big league. The kids may be born there but they are unlikely to stay there if there isnt the best opportunity to be seen. Which is Kieran point. Why cant Canberra Kids be showcased at home? Money and an ACB agenda that looks after it own interests and those of NSW and Victoria with bigger market places to cash in on their ability.

    Phantom I’m not worried about taking your sister to the pictures. Its the walk home that is the concern

  6. lee donovan says

    perhaps you could get John Howard to open the bowling

  7. TR,

    experience, I believe, trumps observation and with 18 more years as a Canberran than me, I value your opinion. I agree, money seems to be the wedge between the Comets and first class competition.

    When writing this I resisted the urge to slam the big bash league (god knows how much money they’ll be pouring into that) and CA’s inability to see that it will be useless for developing good Australian cricketers. I wonder, if CA canned the BBL, could they fund a team in Canberra and possibly even NT? Like you said though TR, it’s not going to happen.

    I asked Cricket Australia for a comment but they were too busy (probably gearing up for another gala Australian team selection event) – all I wanted was a ten minute phone conversation. Instead they gave me this comment via email.

    “The Australian Capital Territory is an important and productive region in Australia’s cricket elite pathway. Cricket ACT has done an excellent job in identifying and developing talent over recent years which has seen players such as Ryan Carters, Jason Floros, Jason Behrendorff and Nathan Lyon contracted by state teams in the past 12 months. The ACT’s senior team, the Comets, have performed strongly in the CA Futures League competition, as shown this season when they took out their first title.”

    Obviously I didn’t get to ask them specific questions (I said I wanted to get an update on CA’s position with the Comets and their place in the state structure). Their mindset hasn’t changed in eleven years. I guess it’s just another frustrating example of an organisation unwilling to plan for the long term-opting for the money turner instead.

  8. You can’t take my sister to the pictures anyway Tony, she’s already going with me.

  9. Keiran,

    you wouldn’t expect Cricket Australia to do anything that was a little off centre and showed a bit of foresight would you?

  10. Phantom,

    No. It’s like telling a P-plater to stop texting his girlfriend while he’s driving Sydney-Melbourne – come on, which one’s more appealing? (Btw that’s experience not observation).

  11. Keiran,
    I reckon the BBL was a real opportunity missed for CA to think outside the square and to include smaller cities such as Canberra, Geelong, Newcastle etc. But instead they took the easy way out (and again the dollar signs obscured their vision). If it all went pear-shaped after the first season they would have been able to have a re-think, but it just seems like that centralised, big-city mentality won out again. I know for a fact that Geelong, having invested heavily in infrastructure (including their own drop-in wickets) are mightily peeved at missing out on a seat at the table.

  12. The ACT Comets was a huge wasted opportunity, a Sheffield Shield team which could have included the best unused Blues and Bushrangers as well as their locals. A 14 round Shield season, a 6 round Ryobi cup with everyone playing each other once with 3 home games for all, and an extra team in a state based big bash, which was already popular. This would have been great with the renovations planned for Manuka Oval and the lights being installed. Surely would have more passion than the Sydney Thunder or Melbourne Renegades, poorly supported “secondary” teams in their markets.

  13. Unrealistic but... says

    I would like to see the ACT field a blended team with New Zealand and compete in all formats 20/20, I day and Shield. It would help develop the Kiwis and provide a platform for the up and coming ACT players.

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