An international side’s squad depth is a good indication of how sound the domestic structure is back home.
When it comes to the Test format, a solid first-class cricket structure is a must to extend the depth of the international squad. There are several other factors which come into play when it comes to squad depth, including finances and infrastructure.
The population of the country, along with the popularity of cricket as a sport, also need to be factored in.
When all of these are combined, some countries come out streaks ahead of the others and it is to no surprise that India, Australia and England leave the others in their wake.
Here, we take a closer look at the Test squad depth at the disposal of the ‘Big Three’ in cricket.
India’s advantage over the other teams is manifold as a cricket crazy nation with a billion plus population. As cricket is unequivocally the No1 sport in the country, there is no dearth of talent available in the pool for India and the BCCI. The fact that the India generates the bulk of the overall cricket revenue significantly strengthens their advantage and means that there is no shortage of resources available for developing an extensive domestic structure and talent pool.
India’s first-class competition – the Ranji Trophy – has as many as 38 teams participating and it reflects the immense depth available for the Test side. Under the guidance of former batting stalwart Rahul Dravid, India have also established a supreme ‘A’ team setup which allows for talented players to be fastracked to international cricket.
With a junior cricket setup which is heads and shoulders above any other country, India really put their cricketing powerhouse status to good use by churning out new players by the minute.
So vast are the reserve options available to India that they could probably roll out two separate reserve XIs which would give plenty of international sides a run for their money.
A veteran of Shikhar Dhawan’s class and calibre cannot find a place in the current first team while young prodigies such as Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill and Rishabh Pant are champing at the bit to get an extended run in the squad.
The fact that KL Rahul is ignored for selection despite his red-hot limited-overs form tells you all you need to know about India’s superior depth. In the pace department, bowlers like Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have to play second fiddle to those in the first team in an era which is turning out to be a golden one for India’s fast-bowling reserves.
Domestic heavyweights such as Hanuma Vihari, Manish Pandey and Shahbaz Nadeem barely get a look in with the main squad, and there are plenty others who are not even discussed despite racking up prolific numbers in the Ranji Trophy.
India current first XI for Tests: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.
Bench-strength: Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Hanuma Vihari, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shahbaz Nadeem, Navdeep Saini.
Unlike India, Australia do not enjoy the advantage of cricket being the undisputed sport in the country. Cricket in Australia has to contend with Aussie Rules, NRL, rugby and football, although it does become immensely popular sport once the summer rolls around.
Still, Australia do a pretty fine job in producing quality players for the national team backed by an impressive depth. The Sheffield Shield might only comprise of six teams representing the different states in the country, yet it is arguably the most competitive and professional first-class cricket competition anywhere in the world.
With just six teams, the competition for places is stiff and only the cream of domestic players are able to rise to the very top. All teams being equally stacked means that matches are fiercely competitive and subsequently leads to players gaining the best preparation for the rigours of international cricket.
It is no wonder then, that Australia have been the dominant Test side of the last three decades. It is also why players such as Michael Hussey had to wait until they were 30 to get a shot with the Australia first team. The fact that Hussey then immediately took international cricket by storm is a glowing indictment of the quality of players produced by the Sheffield Shield.
The junior cricket structure in the country is only behind India’s with the Aussies clinching three ICC U19 World Cup titles in the past.
Currently, Usman Khawaja cannot get into the Test team despite having eight international tons to his name in the format. Wicketkeeper Alex Carey has already shown that he is at home at the international level with his limited-overs displays, but a place in the Test squad remains elusive due to Tim Paine holding down that spot.
One particular area where Australia are really stacked is the pace department, with James Pattinson, Michael Neser and Sean Abbott all waiting in line. Also, young Jhye Richardson is one of the most promising pacers in international cricket and his time is bound to arrive in the future. With the bat, Will Pucoskvi has been hailed as the next big thing in Australia cricket and is a player who carries plenty of promise.
These men might have to bide their times on the fringes for the near future, given the fact that Australia have one of the most settled Test squads at the moment.
Current Test first XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Mathew Wade, Tim Paine, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood.
Bench-strength: Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Bancroft, Mitchell Marsh, Marcus Stoinis, Will Pucoskvi, Jhye Richardson, Alex Carey, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Sean Abbott, Kurtis Patterson.
Cricket is far from the most popular sport in England with both football and rugby enjoying a far wider following and participation. Still, cricket remains permanently etched into the general conscience of a country which invented the sport.
There have been fears that popularity of cricket has been rapidly declining in England, but a recent maiden World Cup conquest on home soil along with Ben Stokes’ Ashes heroics seem to have reignited the interest in the sport.
The County Championship remains the oldest first-class cricket competition in the world and is still going strong to this very day with 18 different counties in participation. Comprising of two divisions with nine teams apiece, the County Championship has historically been of a high quality.
It is the reason that it has been able to attract the top international players in the world with a chance of developing their skills in English conditions coming as an added bonus. A professional set up at both the first-class and domestic levels means that there are always new players emerging for England.
Currently, the quality of county cricket is starting to shine with several youngsters such as Dominc Sibley, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran and Ollie Pope making their breakthroughs with the England senior team.
Players such as Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali no longer have a place assured in the England Test squad while others like Tom Banton are waiting to make their mark. England’s squad depth might not match up with that of India’s and Australia’s, but it is still ahead of the others in the pack.
In the pace department, the likes of Woakes and Curran are not guaranteed a place in the squad despite being proven performers on the Test level. Meanwhile, Ben Foakes is considered to be the finest wicketkeeper in England but has found chances hard to come by with Jos Buttler and Bairstow being preferred due to their superior batting skills.
With Jack Leach making an instant impact, England’s spin reserves are looking plentiful as well with Dom Bess and Matt Parkinson waiting in the line.
Current Test first XI: Dominc Sibley, Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jofra Archer.
Bench-strength: Zak Crawley, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Mark Wood, Dominic Bess, Ben Foakes, Matt Parkinson, Tom Banton.
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