Throughout this summer Cricket Australia is providing opportunities to the younger generation in all male domestic one-day competitions. It is a bold move that will see a Cricket Australia XI, generally a lot younger than their opposition, selected to take part in the Matador One Day Cup, the U17 National Championships and U19 National Championships.
It isn't the first time that Australia has experimented with providing exposure at the next level to these impressionable boys. Back in the 1994-95, the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup was participated in by Australia, England, Zimbabwe, with Australia A added to provide an extra fixture to the teams.
The team was captained by Damien Martyn and included the young brash players of the time: a goateed Ricky Ponting, Greg Blewett and even Matthew Hayden, to name a few. In a shock surprise, Australia A knocked out England and Zimbabwe to head into the best of three final series, where the main Australian side accounted for the next generation, easily posting a two-nil victory.
With that experience such a success Cricket Australia were hopeful that it would again be a positive result, but when the CA XI were bundled out for 59 and 79 by New South Wales and Victoria respectively, there were cries that the experiment had failed.
Greg Chappell, Cricket Australia's Talent manager was shocked by the negative reaction, "I don’t see any downside, what’s the worst thing that can happen; they get beaten in a few games but they will learn something.”
If we were to look a little deeper at the results, you would see that their first encounter in the competition was against NSW. Not only were the majority of players making their debut at this level, so the butterflies would have been flapping around in their stomachs, but they were coming up against a side where all eleven players have represented Australia in some form or another.
With the Bangladesh tour postponed indefinitely, Test players such as Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon were now back playing in their state colours.
Arguably the best white ball bowler in the world right now, his performance in the World Cup seeing him honoured as the Player of the Tournament, Starc was bowling over 150km/h, plus swinging the ball. He made it extremely tough for the youngsters, who would not have been exposed to that kind of pace but more importantly subjected them to consistency in line and length. Starc returned the impressive figures of 6-25 with the CA XI bowled out before the 25th over.
After the disappointment of the first game, CA XI's next encounter was against Victoria, who had James Pattinson on the comeback trail. Pattinson, also known for his pace, ripped through the top order to finish with 4-18. At least this time, the CA XI exceeded the score of their previous match by 20 runs, but didn't survive much longer, being bowled out in the 28th over.
Chappell went on to say, "What we have to accept is they played the two toughest teams in the first two matches...if they're going to make it to the highest level of the game they'll face bowlers of that speed. As a player I didn't know how to handle fast bowling until I was subjected to it."
The average age of the CA XI is just under 21 years, yet in the 1994-95 Australia A team, the Australian Cricket Board (as it was known back then) provided exposure for the youth players at this level, but also sprinkled a number of experienced campaigners throughout the team.
Those players consisted of Phil Emery, NSW keeper who had played 1 Test, but had the impressive record of 121 First-class matches; Paul Reiffel, who was in and out of the Australian side at the time; and the great man, Merv Hughes, who was at the tail-end of his career.
I am sure that there would have been times when Troy Cooley, head coach of the CA XI, would have loved an experienced player amongst his young guns to calm their nerve out there in the middle and show them the way.
Players such as Peter Siddle would have been perfect, given that he has been sitting on the bench for Victoria and running drinks. Why not draft him in for a few games to help this next generation?
Despite the two heavy defeats, the players and their coaching staff were able to register their first win against Tasmania in their next encounter.
After the win, a relieved Jack Wildermuth stated that the boys were "pretty disappointed with their first two results in the competition.”
“But we spoke about playing to our strengths, and going back to what we knew and were comfortable with.”
“Two games don’t decide whether this has been a success or failure, we knew that the boys at some stage of this tournament would show what they have got,” stated a confident Chappell.
I am sure that if the Test players weren’t back in the one-day competition, the start of the CA XI journey would not have been so daunting. And although they have recorded a win, their last match was another tough lesson, being beaten by Western Australia by 246 runs.
With this experiment being a two-year proposition, I am sure that a review will be carried out after this competition. Whilst I understand that it has a lot of merit, I would love to see a number of experienced players in amongst these boys, and teaching them the lessons of becoming a man.