Saturday, January 8, 2011

Future is finger lickin' bleak for Australian cricket

ALL the right noises will be made about reviving Australia as a Test nation, but the harsh reality is there is a big, fat greasy chicken meal standing in its way. It is called the KFC Big Bash.

Yes, yes, we know there will be a "major, deep-seated review" after the Ashes.

Just like there was when Australia lost the Ashes a few years ago.

But this time, Australia is cornered. The room for improvement is minimal.

We can talk about heads rolling and attitudes changing, but here is the reality ... the game here is heading in a different direction and it's not coming back. Next season, Australia's priority will be a revamped KFC Big Bash featuring eight city-based teams from around Australia.

It has been three years in the planning and Australia is gearing up to promote the daylights out of it and hopefully sell it as part of a massive television rights package in a few years' time. You can't be a KFC outlet and fine dining experience at the same time. But Australia knows which way it is going.

"It's just not cricket without the Colonel" is one of its summer slogans and it has given KFC the title of "the official restaurant of Cricket Australia". If, as Wisden editor Scyld Berry claims, the price of this push is that our batsmen perform like headless chickens, so be it. Australia will simply wear it.

You can have all the Ashes reviews you want but the future is planned - along economic lines - and you can't have two futures. The Big Bash has become such a high priority that the Cricket Australia board is on the verge of cutting the time-honoured Sheffield Shield final to make room.

It is not quite true to say Australia has to choose between one or the other forms of the game, but if this summer has taught us anything, it is that the skills of our young players are moulded by finger-lickin' cricket. If your concern about the Australian team is its lack of patience and discretion outside off stump, prepare yourself for long-term suffering. That issue will become worse before it gets better.

Coaches at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane saw a quantum shift about four years ago as young players wanted to learn different footwork than what had been the norm for a century. Instead of putting their foot close to the pitch of the ball, they wanted to get it out of the way so they could slog - or put it straight down the pitch like Steve Smith does, opening options on both sides of the wicket.

In 50-over and 20-over cricket, batsmen are told "just get bat on ball".

By contrast, you can bet anything that when the ball was swinging and seaming this series, Test batting coach Justin Langer would have been delivering the opposite message "just leave as many balls as you can".

Very few batsmen do both well, but Australia's chances of finding batsmen of patience will not be helped by the fact that we are entering an age where Flash Harrys will be king.

Australia should note the fact that as great as batsman Alastair Cook was on this tour, England has no place for him in the shorter forms of the game this summer.

This is why Australia desperately missed Simon Katich. Graft was gold and Australia could not find a nugget to save itself.

And they will be harder to find in our new world.

Twenty20 cricket is becoming more of a lure for young players now because it can make them rich and famous quicker.

The thought of becoming Ricky Ponting seems a galaxy ride away, but they might just be able to be Dave Warner, who picks up hundreds of thousand dollars a year playing T20, despite the fact that he battles to get a first-class game for NSW.

Over the next two days in India there will be an IPL auction where some run-of-the-mill batsmen will be paid millions of dollars.

Like it or not, cash is king in cricket. This is the way the game is going. The era of the headless chicken is upon us.