It was one of cricket’s most famous experiments.
Fans still talk about it to this day, while administrators of the time wanted to quickly forget it — but now there are calls to bring back the rivalry of Australia v Australia A.
It came about in the summer of the 1994/95 season, when the home nation was due to take on the likes of England and Zimbabwe in a one-day series.
With the possibility of a one-sided competition at hand, the then-Australian Cricket Board added a fourth team, full of the game’s next generation of rising stars.
It was due to create a contest but it ended up introducing a spark into that summer of cricket.
“We all loved it,” reflects former Australian women’s vice-captain and 2006 ODI skipper Lisa Sthalekar.
The Australia A team featured the likes of soon-to-be-regular Damien Martyn as captain, attacking batsman — and later Australian coach — Darren Lehmann, and the fiery right-arm fast bowler Jo Angel.
Boasting a dark green kit to match their underdog status, they took on the establishment: a seasoned Australia team featuring the likes of Michael Slater, David Boon and Mark Taylor.
Fiery showdowns between regulars in the top team, and those pressing for a place played out in front of fans’ eyes as the two teams faced off no less than four times during the course of the series.
The two sides fought it out in the final of the tournament and while the team in canary yellow claimed it comfortably, it’s still one of the most savoured domestic series for fans.
While Australia A sides have faced international teams since then, and there was an Australia v Australia A warm-up match ahead of last year’s Ashes, there has not been a repeat of the 1994/95 series.
Given the possibility that a number of international fixtures will be cancelled this summer because of coronavirus, Sthalekar says the game’s administrators could do worse than serve up a throwback.
“It could certainly happen in the women’s game as well; I think it would be competitive cricket,” she said.
Time for new ideas
Cricket Australia could find itself with gaps in its schedule in the coming months, with uncertainty surrounding the men’s T20 World Cup, scheduled to start at the end of October.
Given possible restrictions around travel, India’s tour of Australia is also in significant doubt at the end of the year, with four Tests pencilled in.
Sthalekar believes there are a number of options for the sport, given it may be trying to claw back some of the money it would usually make off the back of the Indian tour.
“You have got to think about our next-door neighbour, New Zealand — they are reducing their lockdown and their restrictions,” she said.
The former Australia vice-captain is also hopeful that administrators don’t underestimate the value of the women’s game should they need to review the calendar in a bid to shore up the sport’s future financially.
Only seven weeks ago, more than 86,000 fans packed into the MCG to watch the Australia women’s team beat India in the final of the women’s T20 World Cup in what was a watershed moment for sport.
Australia’s women’s team currently has its eyes set on an ODI World Cup due to start in New Zealand in February 2021.
“All of the gain that women’s sport has made… [now] because of this pandemic, [those gains] might have to take a back-seat and that would be really tragic,” Sthalekar said.
A shorter Bash could be bigger
One string likely left in the bow of Cricket Australia is the annual men’s Big Bash tournament.
Given the possibility of no or limited international cricket being played, the game’s home-grown made for TV tournament could take the centre sporting stage once again.
Launched modestly in 2011, the Big Bash grew quickly in popularity with prime-time free-to-air exposure and it soon became a staple of the Australian summer either side of Christmas.
In 2018, the game cashed in and sold off the Big Bash as part of a six-year deal with Channel Seven and Foxtel, reportedly worth in excess of $1 billion.
While it has maintained some free-to-air coverage, interest in the Big Bash has wavered in recent years, with some games locked behind the Foxtel pay-wall and an extension of the competition schedule into late February for the past two seasons.
Sthalekar believes the inclusion of a number of regular Test stars this summer, free of international commitments, could be just the tonic to reignite some interest.
Condensing the Twenty20 tournament might also become an option for organisers, as part of a new-look summer.
“I would imagine because of this pandemic everyone is probably thinking how can we truncate everything into a short amount of time?,” Sthalekar said.
“I think that will help the competition because as human beings we have a certain appetite for a certain amount of time and sometimes we might lose it.”