Growing up at the remove of a hemisphere, Australian grade cricket was a semi-mythical thing, the Yorkshire and Lancashire Leagues of the 1950s and '60s updated and transplanted Down Under. The myth grew as the Border-Taylor-Waugh juggernaut fired up and tales filtered down of Test players bred there playing a couple of Shield games and then wearing the Baggy Green.
They'd go back to their club sides on odd weekends and sometimes get worked over. One innings every two weeks produced the kind of flint-eyed determination and jaw-dropping balls that could repel Curtly Ambrose mid-wicket at Port Of Spain, could have you hallucinating at the crease in Madras rather than get out. English players would go down there and get chewed up, dropped to the seconds - too callow, too soft for grade cricket in their first season.
It was singular in its ferocity, a finishing school that money could neither replicate nor buy, populated by the kind of teams who would rout soft-ass county second XIs, filled with men who could nurture greatness by offering it no quarter. How England envied it, discussed it, wanted to replicate it.
Now it is changing, as Peter Roebuck writes in an insightful piece. There is a danger for Australia that they will go the English way, producing a generation of talented but cossetted players whose ability can be subjugated by sheer hardness. County cricket, especially in Div One, is tough now, with few meaningless matches, less dreamy, drifting summer days. England have got harder. Australia are, if not getting softer, in danger of losing something that has made their cricket unique and uniquely Australian.
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