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State cricket shown some love

Jonathan Howcroft

Jonathan Howcroft

Written on Thursday, 06 October 2011 22:06

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The 2011-12 summer will redefine the role of domestic cricket in Australia. Stung into action by the failures of the international side, the national game is once again looking to its grassroots for succour.

The Argus Report will drive change. There will be a stronger connection between states and the national setup to improve the performance of Team Australia. There will be a stronger connection between states and club cricket to better streamline the development of elite talent. The Australian cricketing pyramid, once the international exemplar, is being given an overdue spit and polish.

Alongside these foundational changes there is also one almighty seismic shift: the Big Bash League. This summer will witness the dawn of a brave new world in Australian domestic cricket, with the hype, colour and noise all turned up to 11. Exciting times. Challenging times.

Tony Dodemaide, a 10-Test veteran of Australia's last rebuild, is responsible for steering Cricket Victoria through the latest generational change and the experienced administrator is confident both his state and his country are heading in the right direction.

"These things come in cycles," Dodemaide told BackPageLead. "I know because I was in the middle of one myself when I was playing. It was probably the only reason I played at the time! But I don't think there's crisis. I think it's a necessary part of business and sport where you go through periods of questioning what you do. We go through it ourselves as a business, conducting critical analysis and you test yourself as to whether you're getting it right. We've been through such a long period of dominance in Australian cricket, we're now at four or five in the world in Test cricket and we don't like it - and that's a good thing."

The convergence of the decline of the Australian Test side and the growth of T20 has led to obvious drawn conclusions. That states (and the city-sides that operate underneath them) are now being feted as the saviour of both the longest and shortest of the game's formats in this country places executives like Dodemaide in awkward dilemmas. One the one hand he needs to maximise the commercial prosperity of the BBL to bolster the state's coffers. On the other he needs to preserve the status of Shield and domestic one-day cricket for the good of the national side. A task he admits will not be easy.

"It's going to be a challenge for us this year as far as the status of the competitions go," Dodemaide said. "They're quality competitions in their own right but they've also got an important function as feeder competitions into the national teams. As far as the players are concerned, our guys want to play for Australia."

"As far as the supporters go in Victorian cricket, that will be an interesting one to observe. There's no doubt there's a terrific latent interest in traditional state cricket but over the years that's not been demonstrated as active interest. The cricket community will still be interested in the way Victoria performs and the number of Victorian players pressing their cases for national selection."

In other words, players will drive the success of the traditional formats, supporters the more innovative. Which sounds like a reasonable diversion of effort, considering Dodemaide's assessment of ‘latent' interest not often becoming ‘active' at Shield level.

However, it does raise one uncomfortable possibility. What happens when the baggy green is no longer the ultimate prize? As the stalled collective bargaining agreement between players and administrators revealed, the influence of T20 on the game is still unclear. With free player movement in the BBL and the potential riches on offer both in Australia and overseas, it is not unthinkable that players will soon make career choices based not on their prospective international ambitions, but on their earning capacity.

For now, Dodemaide is confident in the Corinthian rewards that motivated him to international honours and is forceful in his belief that success should continue to be measured in player progression.

"Success for us is a continuation of the very strong state program - as in the feeder program - for the Australian system; the traditional set-up if you like," he said. "As well as having some competition success."

For the player pathway to operate successfully, states have to work well with their own feeder systems, their state leagues. The Argus report recently criticised the current model, suggesting elite players were too remote from the grassroots; a criticism Dodemaide is reluctant to accept.

"It's always been an important factor for us," Dodemaide asserted. "The report in particular questioned the motivation of some of the players to continue to compete at that level, which is an interesting comment, but that certainly doesn't apply to all players. From our point of view we continue, and our coaches and selectors continue, to emphasise how important that is. We've been very meticulous in our selection function, and we have a panel of advisers that closely watch Premier Cricket, and make sure that's a prominent part of the program."

"We've actually restructured our organisation slightly in the off-season to make the role of Premier Cricket, as the leader of the pathway more central and prominent. We've also created a new position of Premier Cricket strategy and development manager. So we're now more proactively looking at the strategies around Premier Cricket and how we can make them even more relevant and more productive."

This pivotal season begins on Sunday with a Ryobi One-Day Cup fixture between Victoria and Queensland in Brisbane. It will meander through an international summer bloated with Indian ODIs, spend six-weeks focussed solely on the BBL and conclude in March. By which point, the health of Australian cricket will be better known and the future of the game at state level much clearer.

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