What to do with New Zealand cricket?

Paul Whiting appreciates my thinking about Australian cricket and wonders if I can offer some level of opinion on the state of NZ cricket. I can certainly give opinions and ideas but at a different level since I am not overly familiar with specific NZ players. Although I will say that, with the retirement of McGrath and Warne, a bowler of the calibre of Shane Bond would likely make it into the Australian team.

New Zealand has a number of natural disadvantages when it comes to producing a quality cricket team. The domestic season is short and the weather is not conducive to play often. Moreover, the lengthy Rugby season (I think it goes for 9 months) prevents many amateurs from playing during "warmer" times.

Having said that, New Zealand has produced players like Martin Crowe, Andrew Jones, Glenn Turner, Mark Richardson, John Reid, Richard Hadlee, Chris Cairns, Bruce Taylor, Simon Doull, Dion Nash, James Franklin and Shane Bond. All of these players bat in the 40s or bowl in the 20s, an indication that New Zealand is capable of producing highly competitive players.

One way to look at it is to compare New Zealand with the Australian state of NSW. NSW has 6.8 million people while New Zealand has 4.1 million. In theory, therefore, New Zealand could, in fact, produce four top class cricketers for every seven that New South Wales produces. Think of the Test cricketers that NSW have produced in the last twenty years: Brett Lee, Michael Clarke, Stuart Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Michael Bevan, Mark Taylor, Michael Whitney, Michael Slater, Adam Gilchrist, and so on. Now ask yourself - has New Zealand produced half as many cricketers of this calibre?

Of course, the answer is no - but that doesn't mean that they can't. Of the 332 Tests New Zealand have played in their history, they have won 62, lost 131 and drawn 139. This indicates that New Zealand cricket has not been as all conquering as their famed All Blacks. In fact, with only around 18% of Tests ending in victory, one would wonder whether they deserve Test status at all.

Now that I've examiend New Zealand cricket in some detail, I now need to look at Australian cricket again.

Australian cricket is very profitable. As a result of Packer's World Series Cricket back in the 1970s, cricket has become a professional sport. Television and advertising rights have made Australian cricket - both Test and One Day forms of the game - into a profitable enterprise.

But along with this profitability came the realisation that in order to maximise profit, there is a tension between building a team that the public want to watch, and providing opposing teams that the public want to watch as well. People flock to the cricket in Australia when they know that the Australian team is likely to win, but against a team that is competitive and likely to cause an upset.

Australian cricket suffers most when the disparity between the two teams is noticeable. Back in the 1980s when Australian cricket was at its lowest ebb, crowds at Test and one day matches were noticeably lower than they are now - especially when it was likely that Australia could lose. Home test series against New Zealand, West Indies and England ended in failure and the public punished the team by not buying tickets and/or turning off the TV. But crowds hardly flocked to the grounds when Zimbabwe toured recently either. The greater the perceived disparity, the less likely the public are interested.

It is therefore in Australia's interest to have a) The world's best team, and b) Matches against quality opposition. It's that second issue that I am now going to unpack because New Zealand has not, apart from a few seasons in the 1980s, provided such opposition.

Let me make it clearer. It is in Australia's interest to have a strong New Zealand Test team. Seeing as that is the case, what can Australian cricket do about it?

We need to take note of the Super 14 Rugby series. In that series, Rugby teams from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia play in a professional series. Why not do it with cricket?

These are my ideas:

1) Merge Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket into one organisation.
2) Make it a clear, unalterable guideline that this organisation will oversee two distinct international teams - there will not be a merging of the two test teams. Moreover, the goal will be that both teams be the first and second best teams in the world (without favouring one over the other).
3) Set up a common domestic cricket competition involving the six Australian and six New Zealand first class teams. These 12 teams will play each other once in four-day matches and once in one-day matches throughout a six month season.
4) Have an open-market policy for each team to contract any players they wish to - there will be no rules against international players. Thus Australian players could play for New Zealand first class teams and vice versa - as well as South Africans, Sri Lankans and even English county players. The reason for this is to increase the standard of players in the combined competition - otherwise the quality of play would be diluted. The result would obviously be less New Zealand players in the competition - but they will be the best NZ players and will thrive against quality opposition.
5) Increase the amount of juniors playing cricket in New Zealand and make amateur cricket more competitive. This is of importance since the idea would be to create an environment in which New Zealand cricketers can make it into the combined domestic series on merit.

In this situation, both Australian and New Zealand first class players would learn a great deal. New Zealand players will regularly play on the hard, fast Australian pitches and Australian cricketers will regularly play on the slower, seam-friendly New Zealand pitches. Constant exposure to these conditions will produce well-rounded cricketers from both nations. Moreover, the experience and talent of imports from overseas will enable teams to have quality players when the national team calls upon their players. New South Wales may lose Michael Clarke to Test duty, but may still have Brian Lara coming in at No. 3!

I'll say here that I don't think that this combined competition should include South African teams. This would increase the teams to 18 and would either lead to a two-tiered competition or an oversupply of cricket. English county teams may play 16 or 17 first class matches per season, but their players don't need to spend hours travelling in 747s flying across Antarctica, the Indian Ocean or the Tasman sea to do this. Besides, South Africa as a country is declining and liable to have massive political problems in the next 10-20 years methinks.

So anyway, that's my solution. Pretty radical, but I think it will benefit both Australia and New Zealand.

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