January 17, 2017

You don't need Shield cricket to prepare for India

That there are no first-class fixtures in Australia this month shouldn't make a difference to how players like O'Keefe and Renshaw train for the India tour
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The injury-troubled Steve O'Keefe is making sure he trains well for India © AFP

Rather than playing in the Sydney Smash on the weekend, Steve O'Keefe was out at Manly Oval, taking 9 for 54 for his grade side and spending consecutive days in the field in preparation for the Test tour of India. Steve's decision to forego his place in the Sixers' BBL team in favour of getting ready for a Test series is one that I applaud, but it also shines a light on the fine balance the players and Cricket Australia must maintain these days.

Though he possesses an outstanding record in first-class cricket and has also excelled in limited appearances on the international stage, Steve has an unenviable injury record relating to his calves and hamstrings. To some degree this is surprising given the simple economy of his left-arm orthodox bowling action, and it has been a source of frustration for many over recent years.

Never was that more evident than in the first Test of the Sri Lanka tour last year, when Steve bowled beautifully in Pallekele but then had to withdraw from the match and the series with a hamstring strain. I'm aware that Australia had planned a lot of their strategy and tactics around his consistent, skidding spin bowling, and the captain, Steven Smith, struggled to find the right combinations from the moment O'Keefe had to leave the field.

That's why it was great to see O'Keefe take some responsibility for his India preparation and choose club cricket, training and a 2nd XI appearance over the BBL, attractive as the T20 circuit can be. Instead of remaining in the spotlight of a tournament that is proving wildly successful once again, he has gone away to do the unseen things that will hold him in good stead for India, as tough a tour as there is in the game. Yes, Sixers miss him, but had I been in his shoes I would have done the same thing.

Cricket Australia has looked to make the best use of the school-holidays period in its scheduling of Big Bash matches © Cricket Australia

Numerous former players and others have come out with criticism of the lack of first-class cricket available to Steve, and also to the young opening batsman Matt Renshaw at this time of the year, leaving them to chart their own preparatory plans in the weeks leading up to the team's departure for India via Dubai. I can't say I agree with them.

A critical part of the BBL's place in the Australian season is the capturing of the school-holidays audience that is flocking into the grounds and watching on television. Looking out for those fans is exactly the right thing for Cricket Australia to be doing, and over the past few years it has absolutely mastered that time slot. There were a few years in the mid-2000s where Australian cricket had stopped growing, and the BBL has been a key element in getting things moving again, particularly for young kids. The tournament is getting a lot of people into cricket who had either tuned out in the past or never been interested.

That being said, I'm not an advocate for further expansion of the tournament for some time yet. I would need convincing that we have enough depth in players to add to the number of teams while keeping the competition at a high standard. I'm also doubtful the case is strong enough to avoid what has happened to numerous other Australian sporting competitions, like the A-League (football) and the NBL (basketball), which both expanded too soon then had to pull back in difficult circumstances. It's vital, too, that the number of games does not grow in a way that would further marginalise the Sheffield Shield and Matador Cup competitions, both so valuable to the national team.

The best person Matt Renshaw can talk to in order to prepare for India is fellow Queenslander Matthew Hayden (in photo), who averaged 51.35 from 11 Tests there Raveendran / © AFP

That brings us back to guys like Steve and Matt, and the supposed handicap of not having any Shield cricket to play right now. I can safely say from personal experience that a round or two of the Shield is not going to make much difference at all to how an individual will play somewhere like India, because the conditions contrast so violently. Before going over there you actually need to get out of your Australian comfort zone, and that's more likely to happen in a specifically controlled training environment on tailored practice wickets than it is in a Shield game.

Matt's got a great example of what to follow from a fellow Queenslander, Matthew Hayden, who famously spent hours in the early part of 2001 honing his sweep shot on spinning practice pitches in Brisbane before going to India and dominating. If I were a 20-year-old Test opening batsman about to go to India, I'd be on the phone to Haydos, talking to him about how he did that. Given the chance to prepare specifically for Asian conditions due to their absence from the BBL, I'm looking forward to some good things from Steve and Matt once they get over there.

Another balancing act in terms of growing a tournament that we are seeing at the moment is the discussion around whether or not the Pakistan Super League final should be played in Lahore. Last year's event was a great success, and I will happily admit to being pleasantly surprised by how well it all played out, not only for our team but everyone involved. Arriving in the UAE, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I left thinking this had been a great thing for Pakistan cricket and the game in general.

I can understand why the organisers of the PSL are eager to get as much of the tournament played in Pakistan as possible. But I also look at the success of the first edition, a massive television audience, and the terrific way in which the competition was organised and staged in the UAE. Overseas players are led very much by the advice they receive from players associations under the umbrella of FICA, and I would hate to see the final played without their contribution.

Former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin played 66 Tests for Australia

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Beavis.J on January 27, 2017, 5:18 GMT

    I don't know how much weight anyone should put in Brad Haddin's tips on how to prepare to play in India.... played 5 tests (last one in 2013) for 2 draws, 3 losses and a batting average of 26 with 37 as a high score. Not one I've ever considered to be a thinking-man's cricketer either. Frankly, considering Australia's recent record in India, the more red-ball preparation the better.... and any would definitely be better than none.

  • Timmuh on January 21, 2017, 21:32 GMT

    @ DINKER-CKTLOVER, There is no doubt Cricket Australia chase the money more than look after the game. Their focus is T20, despite giving lip service to the "primacy of Test cricket". As a result the BBL splits the summer and often enough the break and change of formats destroys First Class form of a few players. Australia has gone further than India down the T20 path. Our junior cricket is almost all T20 outside the private school system, BBL is on when we need Shield cricket to pick Test players from, etc. People go to T20 becauyse it is easy to digest, "exciting", and a result in three hours. Many don't care about the result, and care more about test results - but don't have the time, or patience, to watch days of Test cricket. The 50 over game is probably suffering more in attendance though, Test viewers till watch Tests. Limited overs viewers are preferring a limit of 20 overs to 50 overs. Plus the overkill of ODIs, far too many are played by almost all nations.

  • Dinker-cktlover on January 19, 2017, 17:31 GMT

    A totally unrelated post but extremely important for the game of cricket,i believe.Was really shocked to see the second picture showing BBL being scheduled on ..holidays and attracting full house.being a cricket fan from India i was thinking IPL nonsense was a hit only over here and Asia.i am used to seeing full house attendance for test matches in England and Australia.have times changed and is the priority given there as well for T20s now a days..would expect and appreciate some responses to this from fans down under and england...wish cricket all the best..ofcourse test cricket

  • Beertjie on January 19, 2017, 11:22 GMT

    What would help prospective Aussie tourists and future test prospects would be to play in a competitive Shield with the test players in it (except when they clash with the home tests). That is unlikely ever to materialise and as a result Shield will never be the high quality breeding ground it used to be. Two completely different squads might help since ODIs have always been part of the local scene, but there's still the clash with the lucrative BB. It's so hard to judge players' performances when the international players are not an integral part of the competition. Of course, there is also the no-spin drop-ins as well as the day-night games which seem to discourage the playing of spinners. All told an insoluble conundrum for the powers that be and the result is the inevitable drop in test standard batting and spin bowling. So, yes, having Shield now by itself would be of little help if one takes the wider picture into consideration.

  • Camberwellcarrot1979 on January 19, 2017, 5:33 GMT

    Aussiensw...nice cherry picking champ! Australia won the last test against England? What happened in the series and who took home the Ashes? I think most would agree that this is more important than a dead rubber but if you think that makes you better than good luck to you! England have won 5 out of the last 7 too if you had forgotten. You will no doubt bleat about 5-0 waah waah waah. Well, if you are happy with playing well in 2 series a decade and getting hammered in the others (15 mins away from 4-0 in 2013 and thrashed you by an innings in 3 tests in Aus in 2010-11) then that shows how you guys now just celebrate mediocrity. I'll happily take the 5 out of 7 ratio going forwards!

  • Chris_P on January 19, 2017, 2:55 GMT

    @CHEAPSKATE Maybe you care to share how he went so well against India A over there then? Or is India's back-up team that bad?

  • dunger.bob on January 19, 2017, 0:20 GMT

    Once again most posters are playing the man, not the ball. Did anyone even read what he had to say? .. I'm being to understand why @AnnoyedOfIt gets so cranky. BTW, he DIDN'T say the lack of Shield cricket is a good thing. Read the damn article. As far as I can see he's actually saying even if there was some f/c to play our pitches are no good for India preparation. They are probably better off in a spin dedicated facility anyway. I can't say I disagree violently with any of that.

  • AussieNSW on January 18, 2017, 19:29 GMT

    @Capt.Meanster. NZ and England better than Australia? Are you serious? The old look Australia taught NZ a cricketing lesson recently. That's saying something. Weve undergone a serious remodel since then even. As for the poms. I think you'll find they lost the last test they played against us and the ODI series. This new look Aussie side will do well in India and fully expect to hand England a hiding here next summer. Good luck yourself.

  • Cpt.Meanster on January 18, 2017, 15:59 GMT

    O' Keefe ?? O' please ! he's going be blanked in India. Better bowlers than him have been. I wish the Aussies the very best as a cricket lover. It's okay to be fanatical about your own team but come on. Team India and King Kohli are on a roll here. SA, NZ, and ENG are all better compared to this current lot of AUS players (except Smith and Warner). They were all swept aside. Can't see anything positive for AUS here other than a solitary draw in one of the tests. And India have already proven that they don't need extreme spinning pitches to beat teams (Hint: ENG). Tough time ahead for AUS.

  • smudgeon on January 18, 2017, 12:50 GMT

    BOILABC12, funny how a lot of people miss those points you make about Hayden. Renshaw could learn much more from Hayden beyond "go to the nets, sweep for 6 hours, repeat". Fact is, the Aussie team is in for a torrid time in India, and it's going to take a combination of mindset and method to survive against a very settled, in-form and confident Indian side on their home turf. I'm hopeful, but certainly not confident.

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