There is no doubt about it — Australian domestic cricket is in crisis.
Once the stomping ground of bona fide run-machines doing everything to push their case for national selection, the Sheffield Shield has become nothing more than a test tube where those in positions of power attempt to create the next big thing.
In all honesty it spits in the face of everything that has made Australia the dominant cricketing nation in the world for large swathes of the past 30 years.
Players are being promoted to the international arena on hunches and gut feel while veterans on the domestic scene pile on century after century and watch their hopes gurgle down the drain.
But you do not need to come to this column to know that.
Just this week alone there has been more than a handful of unlucky or hard done by 11s floated in the national media as public uproar nears boiling point.
What can I offer you then, other than another column of fanciful wishes of what could have been for blokes who probably still wake up in cold sweats from the nightmares of being a fringe international cricketer?
Well, rather than just pointing out the problem I’ve come up with a solution.
The axing of four players leading into the first round of the new Sheffield Shield campaign was an atrocity.
Michael Klinger, Ed Cowan, Cameron White and Tim Paine are all comfortably in the top 66 players in the country, yet they find themselves without a place in their respective state sides due to instructions from above.
Yes, when the whips get cracking this summer and the international cricketers return to their pedestal this quartet will once again dominate the highest level of the domestic scene.
But that is simply not good enough.
Where is the respect for the commodities that underpin the world’s greatest game — runs, wickets and dismissals?
What these veterans need is a more permanent solution, where their form will be respected no matter how many grey hairs sit under their helmets.
What they need is The People’s XI.
Cricket Australia took it upon itself to artificially inseminate an 11 of its own into the domestic one-day competition (yes, it still exists) in 2015, filled with young cricketers who could not break in to their own state team.
So why can’t the Sheffield Shield also expand to seven teams to accommodate the growing list of in-form veterans unable to hold their spots for their state teams on performance alone?
It would be a win-win situation for everyone.
Cricket Australia opens up more spots for its experiments, cricketers have a greener pasture to go to before they step down completely and the viewing public have the opportunity to watch some of the country’s best players go around again for a few more seasons than usual.
I have taken some creative licence with the team, poaching some players in the guise of them jumping ship before they are pushed, as well as dragging a few stars of yesteryear out of retirement for some fun.
The People’s XI will play out of the Northern Territory, and you will see why I chose it over Canberra when you read a pair of the names selected in the middle order.
This group of players would pose a strong threat to any state side, and I can guarantee the turnstiles would tick over at a much faster rate than they currently do for the once-great competition that is the Sheffield Shield.
THE PEOPLE’S XI
1. Michael Klinger
How this man has not been given a chance in the Test arena baffles many an Australian cricket fan. Even more astounding was his absence from Western Australia’s round one Sheffield Shield line-up. The 37-year-old has amassed 11320 runs in 182 first-class matches and has plenty left in the tank.
2. Ed Cowan
The leading run-scorer from last season could not retain his spot for New South Wales for round one. The 35-year-old accumulated 959 runs at an average of 73.76, and would form a perfect combination with Klinger at the top of the order. Hell, even most of the other states would relish the opportunity to have him blunt opposition attacks for hours on end.
3. Cameron White
Recently talked about as an option for the national limited overs teams, White found himself carrying drinks for Victoria for round one. At 34 , White is another who simply does not fit into state selectors’ neat instruction box which reads ‘‘young and promising’’ rather than ‘‘in-form’’. Also gives you a bowling option in a team where legs will tire quickly.
4. Brad Hodge
The poster boy for a generation of scorned cricketers, Hodge owns an unbeaten double ton in Test cricket yet only managed six matches. Not content with crippling the 42-year-old’s chances at international level, the cricketing gods then saw fit for him to be unceremoniously dumped from the Adelaide Strikers after hitting 286 runs at 40.85 last season. Would need to be coaxed back into the whites, but surely Old Spice could foot a lucrative sponsorship bill for this team.
5. Matthew Hayden
I know what you’re thinking. The last time Hayden, 46, played a competitive cricket match was in January 2012 (not counting charity or exhibition games). But just imagine for a second if you got him back with his great mate Andrew Symonds to put bums on seats. The pair could just play home games in the Territory and go fishing every second week. Has to bat down the order to start with while he shakes off the rust.
6. Andrew Symonds
At 42, Symonds is also sure to take a while to warm up after a number of years out of the game. His versatility at the bowling crease would be very handy though, and maybe — just maybe — the cricketing public could be treated to something akin to his and Hayden’s 279-run partnership at the MCG in 2006 against the old enemy.
7. Tim Paine
Touted for a Test recall and then left out of a struggling Tasmanian team for incumbent Matthew Wade. On batting alone Paine is a walk-up start for the Tigers, but the 32-year-old is also one of the finest pure glove-men in the land.
8. Ben Cutting
Any team needs some youthful exuberance and 30-year-old Ben Cutting will certainly snare the coveted fine-leg to fine-leg fielding gig in this line-up of ageing warriors. Languishing in Queensland grade cricket at the weekend, Cutting’s six-hitting capabilities and first-class bowling average of less than 30 would be very welcome here.
9. Peter Siddle
The 32-year-old banana enthusiast would still harbour dreams of returning to the international scene, but too many younger members of the fast bowling cartel have gone past him. It won’t be long before the same happens at the Bushrangers, so Siddle should jump before he is pushed and spearhead the most popular bowling attack domestic cricket will ever see.
10. Doug Bollinger
Like Siddle, Doug the Rug is still making batsmen across the country jump at the crease. But at the wrong side of 36 Bollinger will soon be put out to pasture, unless NSW’ selectors suddenly do an Olympic gold medal worthy backflip. I can hear the chants already from the stands as Siddle and Bollinger steam in from either end of TIO Stadium.
11. Brad Hogg
Who better to lead the charge into a new era of veteran cricket than the spinning wizard that is George Bradley Hogg. Still plying his trade and twisting his tongue for the Renegades at a sprightly 46, Hogg puts the rest of this team to shame when it comes to longevity. Will warm Warnie’s spot until he is done on the The Bachelor.
Coach: Brett Geeves
The People’s XI deserves a People’s Champion and Geeves is regularly the voice of the disgruntled Australian cricket fan. He would certainly enjoy sticking it to the establishment by leading a veteran team to a domestic title. Would have to get in the ears of plenty of other former international stars to flesh out the playing list, but it could be done.