It’s the light at the end of a very dark tunnel for cricket in Australia.
Amid the wreck that has seen Australia’s on-field performances sink to a new low, and the chaos of a governing body that has seen more departures than the world’s busiest airport, two young batsmen stood up and made a name for themselves at the SCG.
New South Wales pair Jason Sangha and Jack Edwards wrote themselves into the history books during the Blues’ Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania, marking the first time since the competition began in 1892 that two teenagers have made their maiden hundred in the same match.
They became just the 11th and 12th teenagers to make a Shield century for NSW, joining a list that includes greats like Don Bradman, Michael Clarke, Bob Simpson and Doug Walters.
The performance from Sangha and Edwards comes on the back of Victorian Will Pucovski’s 243 in the opening round of the Shield competition, the 20-year-old notching his second century in just five matches. Sadly he’s since been sidelined indefinitely due to mental health issues.
With 18-year-old leg-spinner Lloyd Pope taking 7-78 for South Australia, the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield season have shown there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of the game in this country.
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And it’s a pattern that’s been repeated over the years. Fifteen of Australia’s 455 cricketers made their Test debut while still in their teens. Another 18 played their first Test before turning 21, a group that includes recent former captains Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh.
“Most of the batsmen I played Test cricket with were all playing first class cricket at the age of 18, or even younger,” former Australian captain Ian Chappell, who made his Shield debut at 18 and his first century at 19, told Wide World of Sports.
“There were a couple of exceptions, Rick McCosker didn’t come down from the country until he was in his 20s, and Ross Edwards started as a wicketkeeper, but generally you were given a shot pretty early.
“The theory in Australia has always been to throw any young kids with talent in at the deep end. If they swim, you find some deeper water to throw them in. You keep promoting them until they either reach the top or they don’t have the ability to go any further.”
For Sangha, 19, and 18-year-old Edwards, their maiden first-class centuries have resulted in comparisons with the greats. Former spinner Kerry O’Keeffe labelled Sangha “the best since Ponting”, a comparison Chappell says the players need to ignore.
“The important thing is you don’t believe it. You know what you are,” Chappell said.
“Bill Lawry once called me the best batsman in the world, which was rubbish because you had two blokes called Graeme Pollock and Gary Sobers for a start. The important thing was I didn’t believe it.
“A lot of it comes down to the way you see yourself, and you’ve got to keep it in perspective. Don’t get carried away by the hype, and understand you’re not the next Bradman or Ponting, you’re Will Pucovski, or Jack Edwards or Jason Sangha.”
In a week where Chappell’s former team-mate Rod Marsh lamented that the Australian system isn’t producing any prospects capable of playing Test cricket for a decade, the former skipper urged those in charge to give young players a chance.
“When you’re making your first-class debut at 18, if you’re any good you’re ready for international cricket at 21, and then by the time you’re 27 you’re a potential Australian captain,” Chappell said.
With Australia crying out for an influx of young batsmen with the ability to lead the side into the next decade, every Shield match is scrutinised and dissected, the stocks of each batsman, young and old, rising and falling.
The desperation for a new star to save the Test team is evident by the fact that a single century suddenly vaults the scorer into national contention, as though a single innings is a sign that a batsman capable of playing 100 Tests has appeared.
It’s a situation that former captain Mark Taylor says needs to change.
“We need some young batsmen to come through, and here’s another couple of young guys showing that they can make first class hundreds, but the challenge now is to make more,” Taylor told Wide World of Sports.
“Don’t just be happy with one, make three or four for the season and really put your name forward for higher honours.”
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In the past national selectors were known to give extra weight to runs made at domestic level against Test bowlers like Bruce Reid, Craig McDermott and Merv Hughes but the days of Australia’s leading bowlers turning out for their state more than once or twice a year are gone.
Regardless, a maiden century can be the springboard to bigger things.
When a rising tennis star won his first match on the ATP tour, he described it as the “real start of my career,” the inference being that there’s a difference between playing at that level, and winning, in the same way that playing first class cricket and succeeding are two different things.
“That’s a valid comparison,” said Taylor.
“When you get a state cap it’s obviously a special day. But all it does is give you the chance to find out how good you are, then it’s up to you to show everyone that you can play at that level.
“Once you’ve made a hundred there’s definitely a feeling of belonging, and you start to think that maybe one day you’ll be on the same level as guys you’ve looked up to.
“No matter how good you are as a junior, whenever you go up a level there’s always the apprehension that you may not be good enough, or the bowlers may be a bit too good for you.
“Once you’ve ticked the box of making a first class hundred it’s a real confidence boost.”
With the Australian batting line-up the subject of much scorn during the recent Test series against Pakistan, the cricket loving public are keen to see who might emerge from the domestic scene as our nation’s newest star.
Batting spots in the Test side have never been more open, and Taylor says now is the time for someone to put their hand up.
“There’s definitely some talent out there,” he said.
“There’s been plenty of doom and gloom, and all sorts of changes going on in the game, but cricket is a very resilient sport in Australia and a lot of people want to play it at the highest level they can.
“You can also be confident there’s enough talent coming through, we just need to make sure we foster that talent and bring them through correctly.
“If these young blokes can put together three or four really big performances in a season, that’s when you start to look at them as someone who should be tested at a higher level, and you think they could potentially be an Australian player.”
There’s an old joke that when you make your NSW debut, they should save the hassle of a second presentation and give you an Australian cap at the same time. For the likes of Jason Sangha and Jack Edwards, that baggy green may be just a handful of innings away.