If you followed the Boxing Day Test match in Australia, you would have heard everything thats wrong with Australian cricket a million times. Right from the lack of runs in Shield cricket over the last few years to how the focus on youth cricket has destroyed the robust club culture.
Unsurprisingly, the Big Bash League copped most of the blame for tampering with the techniques of Australian cricketers. Its absolutely par for the course to blame T20 cricket for failures in Test cricket.
We, in India, did that too. Right from the inception of the Indian Premier League, a lot of voices, including many former cricketers, feared for the worse – that it would ruin the development of players suited to play long-form cricket.
To be honest, I also started as a sceptic. I felt that while IPL would help nurture our fast bowlers and middle-order batsmen, it would affect the openers and spinners for Test cricket. T20 cricket is all about executing high-quality skill under immense pressure but the thing to note is that there are only certain skills that come to the fore. Fast bowlers become more accurate and middle order-batsmen become stronger and wiser but the demands from openers and spinners in the shortest format are radically opposite to whats expected off them in Tests.
Eleven seasons of the IPL have shown that its possible to have the best T20 league in the world and simultaneously become the No.1 Test side in the world. The moment the sheen of the IPL performances wore off with regards to their importance for selection in other formats (initially a few ODI-Test selections got influenced with IPL success), it was proven that both could happily co-exist.
In certain cases like Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav, T20 cricket can help groom bowlers for other formats too. A lot of credit must go to the Board of Control for Cricket in India for keeping the priorities right. The Indian domestic circuit follows a set pattern in which white-ball cricket and red-ball cricket never overlap. It either starts with List-A cricket, moves into four-day cricket and then finishes with T20 cricket followed by the IPL, or it starts with four-day cricket and all white-ball cricket is scheduled right at the end. Even the best players find it difficult to move seamlessly between formats and therefore, its only fair that first-class cricketers arent burdened with that expectation.
It really surprises us in India that Shield cricket happens on either side of the BBL in Australia. The issue becomes even more glaring because Australia is hosting Test cricket and if theres no Shield cricket on, selectors get forced to either pick players on four-day numbers from last month or their recent returns in the BBL.
It cant be ideal for both the selectors and also for the players like Peter Handscomb who get dropped from the Test side but hope to rediscover form in the BBL.
The other thing that the BCCI must be lauded for is the fact that it has insulated age-group cricketers from T20 cricket. While they can happily play the shortest formats for their clubs and academies, the BCCI doesnt organise any T20 competition for Under-16s, under-19s and under-23s.
This goes a long way in developing correct fundamentals at the right age. The likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Bumrah and Kuldeep learnt their craft playing long-form cricket since they were 14 or younger.
Last but not the least, there was a time when you felt that India had too many first-class teams, for that diluted the standard. But considering that India has more than one billion people and that you need as many as three international teams, it might not be that bad a thing anymore.
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