The T20 Champions League just can’t get a break it seems. Not only were most of its participants more interested in getting pissed and touring the Serengeti (although hopefully not at the same time, that could get messy) than actually playing in it, but it’s now gone and ostracized one of the few publications that was prepared to speak positively of it. Yeah, that’s right, because of the Champions League we have to write a Steve Smith Report without any, you know, Steve Smith in it.
We could say that Australian domestic cricket has soldiered on bravely regardless of the absence of its most charismatic, attractive, fashionable (we could go on) players, but that would be a damn lie. Instead it’s struggled along with all the grace of an aging Indian middle order batsman who simply refuses to retire. On the face of it the domestic scene ought to be thriving, as October is one of those strange months in Australia when there is little to no sporting competition to speak of. With the Rugby League and Aussie Rules seasons out of the way, by rights domestic cricket ought to be wallowing in undivided public attention. Instead, however, it has continued to be ignored by all and sundry, with the media in particular going out of their way to avoid having to report on it. Most of them seem to prefer reporting on A-League games, which is understandable considering that the local football code now boasts of one of the greatest players of the last (or indeed any) generation amongst its ranks.
It hasn’t helped either that the domestic competitions are progressing in fits and starts, hampered by the absence of New South Wales and Western Australia. This has had the unfortunate consequence of causing South Australia to feature in quite a few contests, and by God are they awful. They lost their first match against Queensland by 191 runs, only saved from further embarrassment by the heroics of Phil Hughes, who scored 95 and 83. In their second match (against Tasmania) Hughes failed in both digs, and as a consequence they were thrashed by an innings and 30 runs. Admittedly playing both of last season’s finalists straight off the bat might have been a tough ask, but the awfulness of South Australia’s performances cannot be overstated
Just how bad South Australia are was further emphasised when their tormentors, Queensland, were in turn annihilated by Victoria. Serial rent-a-quote Darren Berry (you may have heard of him, but if you haven’t then count your graces) believes the current Victorian pace attack is the best in First Class Cricket. Not just in Australia, but anywhere in the world. And this is a team that ‘features’ Darren Pattinson amongst its ranks. Admittedly in that game they did look pretty impressive, blowing QLD away for totals of 149 and 125, and in the end winning by ten wickets, with Peter Siddle and James Pattinson taking a bagful each. Pattinson in particular looked impressive, and seems to have overcome the poor form that has dogged him for much of the year. That’s James we are talking about, Darren just looks bloody horrible as always.
That result reopened the argument that has been going around for a few years now in Australian cricket that states are deliberately preparing ‘result’ pitches, i.e. green tops that favour pacemen, and are conducive to providing an outright result in a four day fixture. It’s a prickly issue, and while some pitches are definitely more suspect than others, at the heart of the debate is whether or not local batsmen ought to be good enough to flourish regardless. Considering that so many Aussie batsmen are patently not up to the challenge, the problem may instead be with how young batsmen are coached these days. But since we are patently out of our depth talking about grownup issues like these, it’s probably better we just quickly move on.
In any case, the argument quickly went to ground again when in Victoria’s next game they were demolished by the Tasmanian batting lineup, who amassed 439/5 before declaring. Tasmania were led by a promising local lad called Ricky Ponting, who peeled off 162 runs from 242 balls. For those of you wondering if one of the game’s great comic villains will be making one last tour of the British Isles come next year, that innings alone ought to dispel any concerns. Ponting has already shown this southern summer that his desire to play cricket has not abated one bit, and whilst well justified doubts remain about his technique, whilst he is scoring runs he will remain in the Test team. So that should give the boo-boys something to…er…boo about.
Finally, the other major news over the past few weeks was the announcement of the Australian A squad to face South Africa in the buildup to the first Test. Much like the team that toured England a few months ago, this is an Australian A team in name only. Instead of using the team to provide some of the fringe Test members a chance to impress, the selectors instead picked a squad to try and answer a few hypothetical questions, like “what the hell do we do if Shane Watson falls apart again?”. To that end they have selected basically every all-rounder currently playing, in the hope one of them impresses and provides at least some reassurance for the true nightmare scenario of an Aussie cricket team without Shane Watson in it.
Andrew McDonald, John Hastings, Moises Henriques, and Glen Maxwell were all selected. I guess you could regard Steve Smith as an all-rounder as well, if you were really desperate. Not that Steve Smith needs to bowl these days to display his greatness. The only other bowler in the team is Nathan Coulter-Nile, a late call up to the previous ‘A’ squad, and a decent fast bowling prospect, but one a long way from the Test lineup right now. The rest of the squad is padded out with the usual dodgy batting options Australia dread having to fall back on in the case Ponting’s wheelchair falls apart, batsmen like Liam Davis, Rob Quiney and Alex Doolan. Oh, and Phil Hughes.
The future really does look bleak. Thank God for Steve Smith then.