Australian cricket’s unsolveable riddle

Australian player Ash Gardner.
Australian player Ash Gardner.

A PROMISING Queensland fast bowler and a female star with family links to the back of Bourke have spotlighted Australian cricket's unsolvable riddle.

Why can't our country produce more indigenous Test cricketers?

Dynamic allrounder Ash Gardner, whose family heritage stretches to a small community called Weilmoringle in northwestern NSW, is likely to make her Test debut next week against England as just the third indigenous player, male or female, to represent Australia in a Test.

That's three baggy greens out of 619 handed out over 140 years of Test cricket.

It's a cringingly poor ratio and all the more bewildering given that, in 1868, an Aboriginal team was the first Australian sporting team to tour England.

They were the true trailblazers but the trail vanished.

Jason Gillespie, a descendant of the Kamilaroi people who once populated northern NSW, is the only indigenous male Test player to play a Test with female pioneer Faith Thomas playing for the Australian women's team more than half century ago.

The Queensland Bulls are excited to have unearthed another highly promising indigenous player, fast bowler Brendan Doggett, who yesterday announced a contract deal with the Brisbane Heat after a rousing first-class debut against Victoria last week.

He is the first indigenous player to play for the Bulls since 1980s fast bowler Michael Mainhardt who once explained to The Courier-Mail that cultural influences have played a role in the lack of indigenous cricket stars.

Brisbane Heat signing Brendan Doggett.
Brisbane Heat signing Brendan Doggett.

"Cricket is a patience game and most indigenous sportsmen prefer being on the move. That's why they prefer the football codes," Mainhardt said.

"Also, to make it in cricket you have to move to the big cities and that doesn't suit a lot of Aboriginal players who get homesick."

The landscape is slowly changing. It's estimated around 60 indigenous players are involved in Premier League first grade around the country and next year Australia will send national indigenous men's and women's teams to England to celebrate the 150-year anniversary of the famous first tour.

The momentum of the first tour evaporated the year after the players returned home. Victoria passed legislation that no Aborigines were allowed to leave the state without permission from the government and the interest of many of the players waned.

Even legendary fast bowler Eddie Gilbert, who has a statue that looks over Border Field and famously bowled Don Bradman at the Gabba, struggled to come to grips with being treated like a second-class citizen, needing written permission even to journey to Brisbane.

It is a far more sympathetic world now but the lack of indigenous representation at top level is not something Australia can ever feel proud of.