Yesterday, I looked at how the Australian selectors have consistently looked past long-term options, instead finding quick fixes which have only amplified the current problems. However, while it is all well and good to talk about the need for an injection of youth, we also must ask: where is this youthful support coming from? The academy system is not the same as it used to be, and Australian cricket has suffered as a result. Young players no longer receive the same exposure against top quality opposition, and a cut in government funding to the Australian Institute of Sport has dealt a massive blow to the system.
Prodigy: South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada is an example of how a thriving youth system can operate.
The problem with the broken system, which has largely been struggling due to the increased influence of the states on academy prospects, is that it increases the time players must spend in the Sheffield Shield before they are ready for international cricket. It is increasingly rare to see a player starting out in the Shield with brilliant results, and while the introduction of the Big Bash League has given young players a chance to face up against the world’s best, this does not do much to appease the issues facing the Test team. Academy tours, which gave graduates a brilliant chance to gain an experience to play as a team and gain a taste of top-level cricket, have been discontinued for some time, a decision which has led to Australia’s drop in results at international youth tournaments and has seriously harmed the system.
If the Australians want to see an example of a thriving system, they need look no further than their opponents in their current Test series, South Africa. Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock, who are now key members of the current side, have both come through the youth system very recently, with Rabada forming part of South Africa’s victorious under-19 team in 2014. If Australia are serious about finding a long-term solution to their current woes, this is what they need to strive for. They need to reinvest in the youth system, giving their players more chances to play (something which would also reduce the injuries to young bowlers which currently plague the team) and back it to come through with results. It will, as with any part of a rebuild, take time, but it is necessary if Australian cricket is to recover.
Cricket Australia seem to have worked this out, and they have taken some good steps in the right direction. A rebuild of this magnitude will certainly take time, but it will have massive long-term effects on the health of the game in Australia and on the results of the Australian cricket team. If the disasters of the last few months are not enough to prompt this kind of change, then nothing ever will.