Victoria are the Melbourne Storm of domestic cricket.
Long have they resisted the millennial tradition of ‘picking for the future’. They’ve broken the shackles of what’s considered the ‘right’ way to go about domestic cricket. They’re changing the game.
Like the Melbourne Storm, they know how to win silverware; pick the best available players.
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An espncricinfo article asked recently “Where have Australia’s batsmen gone?”. Coaches from all states were quick to defend their own backyard, while a comparison was made with India’s domestic setup.
Australia’s domestic desire for someone who can score a “sexy 30” was put against India’s policy of runs as currency; ie. we don’t care how you look, as long as you score them.
One look at Victoria’s line-up and you can see “pretty 30s” don’t carry weight.
Nic Maddinson: discarded by New South Wales as unwanted, past his prime (at 26), not living up to potential. Marcus Harris: a wantaway from Western Australia – labelled by now-Australia coach Justin Langer as “mediocre with flashes of brilliance”. Chris Tremain: another New South Wales discard, seen as ‘not up to it’, has been one of the Sheffield Shield leading wicket takers for the last two seasons. All three have seen extreme success down south, from Test debuts to certain double-hundreds.
Scott Boland, Jon Holland, James Pattinson, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch, Peter Siddle: if they played for their northern rivals any one of their heads could be on the chopping block, forgoing runs on the board, experience, skill, quality – all for the chance to identity Australia’s ‘next big thing’.
But like the Storm, Victoria has found a way to turn misfits, wantaways and nobodies into quality Sheffield Shield cricketers.
They’ve encapsulated the perfect balance of youth and experience, they pick teams on merit, and they’re hungry for victory.
The Victorian mantra is to win competitions and through winning competitions their players will be picked for Australia and ultimately generate a culture of success.
It’s this system of success that has seen Victoria win 13 domestic trophies in the last 16 years, including the 2018/19 Sheffield Shield, beating NSW by a comfortable 177 runs.
These points were epitomised in Victoria’s clash with South Australia on Thursday, with Marcus Harris and Nic Maddinson sharing a 220-run opening stand, Harris finishing on 116, Maddinson still batting on 195 not out (and finishing with 224). Funny what happens when blokes are nurtured and given a platform to improve and show their capabilities, as opposed to the unhealthy amount of pressure placed on young shoulders, just waiting to be chewed up and spat out by a flawed system – no longer the ‘next thing’ but the ‘old’ thing.
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It seems easy – pick players who are backed by statistics and experience, players who will bring the next crop of stars through and you will succeed.
It’s a style that’s evident with the NRL’s Storm and has other clubs wondering how they do it, with cries of unfairness, or cheating, when it couldn’t be more transparent; experience, youth, culture, balance, and ultimately, success.
This is exactly the role Finch, Maxwell, Handscomb, Pattinson, Siddle and Boland will be playing for guys like Will Pucovski, Sam Harper, Will Sutherland and Chris Tremain – this culture of success wasn’t made overnight – it’s been happening for generations.
Before this current crop, the leaders were Chris Rodgers, Dave Hussey, Brad Hodge, and more recently, Cameron White – guys who kept playing, performing and nurturing until they couldn’t do so any longer.
Former Victoria wicketkeeper Adam Crosthwaite grew up in the system with this crop in the 2000’s and found out the shortfalls of a move north for himself.
The former first-picked wicket-keeper-batsman was unable to break into New South Wales’ setup, despite later playing Sheffield Shield for South Australia and in the Big Bash League for the Adelaide Strikers.
“You look back at a different era coming through, Victoria went and got Gerard Denton at the end of his career, Victoria went and got Damien Wright at the end of his career, Victoria had Dirk Nannes and Mick Lewis and Shane Harwood and they taught John Hastings, Clint McKay, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Scott Boland,” Crosthwaite told foxsports.com.au.
“They teach those guys how to play because there’s a seniority about it and you’ve been made to work hard.
“Aaron Finch has been as good as Steve Smith forever and he’s been made to work his ass off at State cricket and now he’s become a Test cricketer. Aaron Finch didn’t get it handed to him whereas there’s guys in NSW being handed a game. It’s like hang on Steve Smith still had to make First-Grade hundreds before he played for NSW.”
Consider Nic Maddinson. Maddinson was rushed into the NSW setup as a youngster. He lost his contract at the age of 26 after being thrown in the deep end and expected to develop and perform without anyone to show him how it’s done. He was then ruthlessly cast aside by his home State.
Crosthwaite insists Victoria have picked up Maddinson at the best point in his career, highlighting their strategy of choosing their best team regardless of age and why Australia should consider the same.
“Everyone said for years Michael Klinger was too old, but he kept making runs – he could’ve played 25 Test matches, how good is that?”
“Chris Rodgers came into the team late, played 25 Test matches and made five Test hundreds, what’s wrong with that? Why does everyone have to play 100 Test matches?
“NSW should win every year, but they don’t because they don’t pick their best side. The guys in there justify their jobs but going, ‘it’s okay we’re building Australia’s next cricketer’ – yeah you might be, but why not make them do what Darren Lehmann and Simon Katich had to do.”
So where are Australia’s batsmen? Where are Australia’s bowlers?
They’re being built into a dynasty, and Australia should get used to seeing Victoria set the tone in Australian cricket – just like their clinical and unrelenting cross-code neighbours.