Cricket is an unusual sport in that, until recently, there was no truly renown and widely watched club competition (apart from maybe English County Cricket and some clubs at a local level). The highest grades are almost exclusively representationally based (whether for a country, city, or province etc.), and those at the peak of the profession rarely spend any time outside of representative competition. This is in stark contrast to other major sports, where athletes are signed to clubs and then are occasionally called up for representative competitions (such as a world cup or Olympics). This is an important distinction, because while sportsmen in other fields enjoy the job security of long-term contracts and sometimes even the option of moving to other markets, our cricketers play with no safety net. Sure Cricket Australia does provide a set number of contracts per year and they normally choose players from this pre-selected bunch, but there is nothing stopping them from dropping a player with a contract or choosing a player who is not under contract. Furthermore, once you are out of the Australian National team or if you never attain that rank, there are almost no other options or venues for financial and career development. Our players must perform in order to retain or attain a spot full stop. This means our players spend pretty much their entire career auditioning. How can we expect people to perform under these conditions? How can this not be taking a toll on the game?
In Australia both the media, and the public, love to opine and conspire about who will come next. We are like vultures. At the drop of a hat (or ball), we will ditch a player who has performed in the past and begin our search for someone new. For an example we have to look no further than the myriad of spinners who have come and gone since the departure of Shane Warne. Sure, some of them may have been duds. But can we truly say they were all given ample opportunity? Were any of them given the peace of mind that can only come with a little bit of security? No. I don’t think we can.
Sports are a fickle endeavour, and we cannot hope to play well all the time. This is as true of players who have long been in the team as it is for players attempting to break into it. If we want our team to get better, one thing we can do is give them some peace of mind and job security. We must remove the continual dread of axing. Sure, if someone consistent underperforms then they should be tossed. But a few bad games, or some minor inconsistencies (think Mitchell Johnson) are no reason to either remove or bar someone from the team. A good example of how job security can affect cricket is the way Captain’s tend to improve after getting the top job. Sure, some of it can be attributed to leadership or luck or more dedication etcetera etcetera, but some of it definitely comes down to the fact that as captain you are one of the selectors and therefore not a candidate to be unceremoniously dumped. If we want a better team we should make the rest of the players feel exactly the same way.