IPL lures young Aussie stars
A generation of cricket's elite youngsters could shun traditional forms of the game to preen themselves as Twenty20 specialists, as the cash from the IPL begins to filter down through cricketing ranks.
The recruitment of young NSW all-rounder Moises Henriques and the courting of fellow Blues David Warner, 22, and Steven Smith, still just 19, by IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders could be a pivotal moment for Australian cricket, as domestic players become illuminated as IPL targets ahead of international stars.
Most of Australia's Test players won't be available for the IPL over the next two years, with their busy schedule making the Indian tournament a bull market for ready and willing state-based talent.
At just 21 years of age and with only a handful of first-class appearances to his name, Henriques now finds himself with a $455,000 financial windfall many better-credentialed players in his Blues squad could only dream about.
The prospect of similar sums could entice rising teen stars to concentrate on skills more suitable to Twenty20 cricket than four-day games and Tests. The green of the IPL cash could prove to be more of an inspiration than the green of a baggy cap.
Queensland wicketkeeper Chris Hartley, who will compete for the Bulls in the KFC Big Bash Twenty20 clash at The Gabba on Boxing Day against NSW, said he could envisage circumstances in which promising youngsters focus explicitly on the 20-over game to kickstart their careers, both in cricketing and financial terms.
"I think there's a good chance of that happening," he said. "To me, Twenty20 is cricket's version of a football game. Obviously the last few years we've seen just how much the crowds are embracing it, the public is embracing it. There's the IPL competitions and the KFC Big Bash in Australia, which are probably going to expand.
"There's going to be opportunities for guys to play Twenty20 cricket. And if guys are more suited to that, they're probably going to practice for that and specialise in that format.
"I think it's been something they've talked about for a few years now, the idea of Twenty20 specialists. I think there is room for it in the game. There's definitely some guys around in state cricket who are more suited to the Twenty20 version."
It was only last year, prior to the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup held in South Africa, that Australian captain Ricky Ponting was expressing concerns that the new game was being taken too seriously, draining it of the "fun factor".
Now, with the IPL in full swing, an international Champions League on the calendar and the game exploding at all levels of cricket, Twenty20 is anything but a triviality.
Cricketing clubs around the country are holding their own Twenty20 tournaments, meaning players as young as 10 are being exposed to the game for the first time.
The format is rapidly being added to all levels of the elite youth competitions, becoming a booming and increasingly important third plank in the make-up of the junior game.
Queensland Cricket is running an Under 17 Twenty20 tournament this season, while a national Under 18 Twenty20 competition will be held next March under the auspices of Cricket Australia.
That tournament, open to clubs, has been sponsored by energy drink company Gatorade.
The state Under 17 and Under 19 representative sides all include Twenty20 games in their schedules, while the indigenous Imparja Cup now begins with a round of 20-over clashes.
Women's cricket has also benefitted from Twenty20, with the Queensland Fire playing curtain raisers to Big Bash matches. Some modified games designed to attract young children to the sport now incorporate aspects of Twenty20.
Cricket NSW chief executive Dave Gilbert has warned his players not to let jealousy infiltrate the ranks if more players are signed, a situation Bulls skipper Chris Simpson has also contemplated handling should the situation arise.
Simpson said there would be no animosity towards young players making big dollars so early in their careers, although the disparity to the incomes of state servants, like Bulls veteran Martin Love, is blindingly apparent.
"It's something that I've spoken to Martin Love a bit about. There's a bloke who is our greatest ever run scorer and he might miss out on all this stuff. The next generation before him would speak about a similar thing," Simpson said.
"I don't think there's any animosity towards the next generation. If anything, there's excitement that the game's growing and expanding at the rate that it is. I don't think there is any bitterness."
Indeed, it may be Simpson's turn to top up his bank account in the near future. The strapping all-rounder is exactly the type of player to tempt the Indian scouts and he said like most, he would jump at the opportunity for an IPL stint.
"Of course you'd love to go. You'd love to play cricket around the world. The more cricket you play with champion cricketers, which the IPL promotes, you'd be silly not to do that. I love cricket and I love trying to improve myself," Simpson said.
Simpson is less concerned that four-day and Test prospects may dry up in junior cricket talent pools. If anything, he says, the soaring fortunes of Twenty20 will see an abundance of physically gifted athletes bringing added speed and power to the first-class ranks.
"What I think might happen is the nature of the game is going to promote more physical athletes. As it happens, not everyone's blessed physically and people find their little niche that they can play cricket in," Simpson said.
"You may get specialist four-day players that are champions of the game in their own field. I agree that young fellas might get promoted to that first but I don't necessarily think the other sides will be neglected."