New South Wales is performing poorly in both Sheffield Shield and the domestic One-Day cup and cricketers are seeking answers. As the largest state with the strongest club competition in Australia and possibly the world, New South Wales usually produces the majority of Australian representatives.
Former Australian fast bowler Stuart Clark criticized Cricket NSW during the Boxing Day Test, stating that they are more interested in selecting 19-year-olds rather than players who have earned their place. Clark is a board member of Sutherland District Cricket Club, which is home to Steve Smith, Shane Watson, and upcoming player Sam Konstas.
First grade is considered the traditional proving ground for aspiring professional cricketers, but it is also at the same level as under-age pathway and academy programs run by state associations. Two grade cricketers, Josh Brown and Paddy Dooley have performed exceptionally well in the Big Bash this season for the Brisbane Heat and Hobart Hurricanes, respectively. Brown works full-time making cricket bats, and Dooley is a corporate lawyer by profession.
Players, coaches, and administrators of grade cricket in New South Wales are upset about the current situation, which leaves players who they believe deserve higher recognition out of opportunities. An anonymous top first-grade batter told news.com.au,
“I felt like I wasn’t getting an opportunity. I kept getting told, ‘we’re monitoring you,’ but without any feedback or movement.”
Another top first-grade bowler stated, “I feel as though New South Wales won’t offer me anything, regardless of how well I perform this year. I don’t know what they want me to do.”
An anonymous top first-grade bowler stated that he hadn’t spoken to Cricket NSW for four years before being named as an injury cover in a representative fixture recently. He also said that when they do pick players who are performing in first grade, it’s only at the end of the season in dead rubbers or when a pathway player gets injured.
He also said that if you score a hundred at a national tournament against teenagers, you’re practically guaranteed of higher honors or a contract. A first-grade assistant coach said it’s a disgrace at the moment and that pathways are getting preferential treatment and grade results mean nothing. A general manager said Cricket NSW feels obligated to select players they have invested in.
A first-grade captain stated that the negative emphasis on pathway cricket over open-age men’s cricket is not unique to New South Wales. He said, “It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Stars and the Renegades are the two least successful teams in the Big Bash, and they’re also both run directly by Cricket Victoria, who have a vested interest in proving the viability of the pathway programs.”
The coach also questioned the sustainability of picking players as young as 12 for representative state sides that remain the focus of the elite pathway. He said, “There needs to be empathy for players that develop late. There are loads of players in first and second grade that could play Big Bash or first-class cricket tomorrow who aren’t being seen because opinions about them are formed when they’re 13, 14, or 15 years old.
Michael Klinger, Cricket NSW’s Chairman of Selectors and Head of Male Cricket, who is a former Australia international, said that it is “very clear that if you’re performing well in Premier Cricket, then those who are knocking the door down will get those opportunities.” When asked about Stuart Clark’s comments on ABC Grandstand, Klinger said, “Absolute respect to Stuart Clark and for his standing in the game, which is huge, but all he had to do if he wanted to was pick up the phone to me and have these discussions.”