Australian cricket’s schedule, with the Sheffield Shield split into two far-flung blocks by the Big Bash League, has encouraged players and coaches alike to look for more chances to be in the English county competition, Australia A assistant coach Chris Rogers has said.
After the breakthrough achieved by Marnus Labuschagne in 2019, when he found the keys to scoring consistent hundreds during a ten-game stint with Glamorgan immediately prior to last year’s Ashes series, Rogers said that CA’s decision-makers were discussing how to get more players of that ilk into the English system.
They may be helped by looming changes wrought by Brexit, as the European Union’s Kolpak route is closed off and counties look elsewhere for additional talent to bolster their squads. In recent years, county contracts have only been available to players who had already appeared for Australia or Australia A, and the potential relaxation of this standard would allow for more aspiring Test players to round out their games as Labuschagne has done.
“Knowing what goes on in the background, there is a lot of talk about how we can give them more international experience without a doubt, whether that be against the swinging ball in England or whether that’s a turning ball in India,” Rogers said ahead of Australia A’s match against England Lions at the MCG from Saturday. “For players to go up and play for Australia and be successful, they’ve got to be particularly well rounded, which sometimes you don’t get just playing Shield cricket, because the pitches are pretty similar these days.
“In Shield cricket it feels like it’s a big event every match and you work yourself up and sometimes that doesn’t help. It can be hard when you feel like you’re not playing as much and then to go with that there’s a big break in the middle of the season, which almost feels like it’s two distinct seasons”
“So there’s those kind of thoughts that are going on. Marnus is a really good example, he went over and played county cricket last year and seemed to have turned a corner with the way he went about it, but that’s natural development in players’ games as well. If we can find ways to give them the right opportunities at the right times, then I’m sure all the powers that be will be looking at that.”
Asked about whether the current Australian schedule made it more difficult for batsmen in particular to get the sort of red-ball continuity they needed to evolve into international players, Rogers agreed that sometimes players could feel they were constantly on trial when there are game blocks of five and five either side of the BBL as in the past, or six and four this season.
“I played a lot of county cricket and sometimes it felt like you only played at 80%, but that could be good too because you’re working on your game, you’re making mistakes, and you’re figuring things out with probably less repercussions,” Rogers said. “Whereas I think in Shield cricket it feels like it’s a big event every match and you work yourself up and sometimes that doesn’t help. It can be hard when you feel like you’re not playing as much and then to go with that there’s a big break in the middle of the season, which almost feels like it’s two distinct seasons.
“So it can be difficult, but that’s just what cricket is these days and you’ve got to find the best way to do it. If it means you’ve got to go away and work harder and figure things out your own way that’s up to you as well. But from a personal point of view I liked to play quite a lot, I felt the best way to learn is out in the middle so it would be nice for a few of these guys to play a bit more and yeah there’s probably something for us to think about.”
Nic Maddinson, who rebounded from a dire BBL with a pair of fluent innings for Victoria against New South Wales in the Shield at the SCG last week, will be one of numerous Australians seeking to prove themselves under the higher degree of pressure created by the fixture. In November, Maddinson pulled out of the Australia A fixture against Pakistan for mental health reasons, meaning this fixture represents a significant test of his progress since.
“It is fascinating to see how you can find one format of the game pretty hard and then you just walk into another game and brain it really,” Rogers said. “It probably seems like he’s pretty comfortable with the long format at the moment and he must be doing something mentally to be able to cope with those kind of challenges.
“Looking forward to seeing how he goes with a bit more spotlight as well, because that’s another issue he’s going through. Any time he’s picked in these kind of sides it’s going to be his own personal challenge as well with what he’s been through with his mental health. It’d be great to see him come out and play really well and show he’s gone through a bit of a process and come out the other side.”
Usman Khawaja, Marcus Harris and the captain Moises Henriques are among others trying to press their cases this week, with a Test tour of Bangladesh looming in mid-year, albeit in vastly different conditions to the MCG under lights with a pink ball. Rogers reckoned that for Khawaja, his best avenue back would be as an opener alongside David Warner, after Joe Burns did not quite manage to nail down his own spot during the home Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand.
“Three and four are pretty much sewn up and then five and six look like they’re pretty solid as well,” Rogers said. “No. 1’s in and then I think Joe Burns has done some good things, I think he would’ve probably liked to have nailed that spot a little bit more and he’s just left the door ajar, so someone with the class of Uzzy might be eyeing off that spot. But as a player you’ll be looking at the side and thinking how do I get into it.
“I can remember Langer and Hayden being at the top and then Ponting at three so pretty much knew I was never going to get in the side, but you’re very much aware of where the spots are available. I think batting three or opening is pretty similar, you’re in the game at 1 for 0 enough times, you should have those attributes to be able to go out and open, no doubt.”