Such was our enthusiasm ahead of the new season of the Matador Cup, it took until the competition had already started before we realised it no longer existed. Instead it has been replaced by something called the JLT One Day Cup. And Matador isn’t the only thing that’s gone. So has free to air coverage. Channel Nine, whose support of the tournament could only ever be considered lukewarm at best, has decided to bugger off entirely this season, as clearly it would be better off scheduling even more reruns of Friends than broadcasting what is supposedly Australia’s premier domestic 50-over competition.
So it was that one of the highlight matches of the season, Western Australia vs. New South Wales, entirely escaped our notice. It wasn’t till it was over that we realised that it had even been played. Forget about Moises Henriques, the Marsh brothers, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Lyon et al, what we are most disappointed about missing was an Ed Cowan half century. The highlight of the summer, gone. As if it never happened.
And that’s the problem with whatever the competition is called now. Despite sterling efforts over on Cricket.com.au to cover the tournament online, it might as well never happen, because nobody takes any interest. Not the public, or the selectors, or even broadcasters anymore. It’s now a massive black hole at the beginning of the Australian domestic summer which everyone goes out of their way to ignore.
One major problem is timing. Australia won’t play ODI cricket again till January, meaning Big Bash form will be far more relevant than anything that happens now. Of the top ten highest run scorers in last year’s comp, only one subsequently played any ODI cricket: Henriques, and he was dropped again pretty quickly. Instead, Australia took Sam Heazlett on their next ODI tour, a player who didn’t play a single game in the Matador Cup. It’s a little better for the bowlers; two of the top ten wicket takers (Cummins and Stoinis) subsequently played ODI cricket.
Clearly selectors couldn’t care less about performances in the competition. In the wake of yet another thrashing overseas, this time in India, there have been some noises about looking more closely at the competition, but are the selectors really going to pick Cameron White? Lol, no. Instead the Big Bash has become the major proving ground for the Australian ODI team. Adam Zampa, Travis Head and Macus Stoinis have all been promoted on T20 form, and not their List A performances. You’d be hard pressed to argue that this hasn’t come at a massive detriment to performances either, given Australia have been thrashed by just about everyone away from home over the past twelve months.
If the current Australian outfit looks exactly like a transition squad, it’s because that’s what it is. Which, given it is almost halfway between World Cups, is no real surprise. But it is a team that has been in transition for two years now and its current overseas form suggests it is nowhere nearer to the end of that particular tunnel. Fiddling with the deckchairs isn’t going to arrest its current drastic slide in form. It needs a complete overhaul. But without credible domestic form to draw upon, the selectors will continue being reduced to taking a punt on who is performing in other forms of cricket, or plucking random ‘development’ players out of the ether, as they did for Heazlett.
And before English fans get carried away with celebrating the demise of the Australian ODI outfit, they should be wary that the same fate does not befall their own national side. Because the Royal London Cup has the same future ahead of it; increasingly marginalised to make way for a draw-card T20 tournament. Second XI teams pushed to marginal grounds and watched by pitiful crowds. Welcome to the future of domestic 50-over cricket.
Which is a sad fate for the Australian version at least. The current tournament is of a decent standard. Featuring a number of big name players it is not really any worse standard than the Big Bash. In fact, given Shane Watson plays in the latter, it could even be said to be better. And yet whilst the Big Bash draws massive crowds, these games are played in front of a handful of spectators at best. It’s a sad fall from grace considering the tournaments of old used to draw decent crowds, and attracted solid free to air support. Admittedly last year’s final, between New South Wales and Victoria, drew a bumper crowd at North Sydney Oval. But that is now overwhelmingly becoming the exception rather than the rule, and despite a solid smattering of international quality players across the competition (plus Mitch Marsh), clearly nobody gives a shit.