Opportunity is the buzzword in Canberra cricket this summer with ACT Comets coach Mark Higgs convinced the pathway to the elite level is now as strong as it's been since the Comets were kicked out of the national one-day competition in 2000.
Cricket ACT is pushing for re-entry into the national one-day competition as early as the 2015-16 summer and players will get the chance to push their individual cases when the Comets play World Cup teams Afghanistan and Ireland in four one-day matches over the next three weeks.
The Comets play Afghanistan at Manuka Oval on Friday and Sunday this week, before backing up against Ireland on October 7 and 9. The Comets will also contest the Sydney T20 competition in October, providing a scouting opportunity for Sydney's Big Bash league franchises, the Thunder and Sixers.
Higgs, who played for the Comets's in their inaugural 1997 season in the national one-day competition, said Canberra had worked hard to re-establish itself as a genuine elite pathway. Australian players Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon began with the Comets, as did established state cricketers such as Ryan Carters and Jason Behrendorff.
"I think we're able to give people quality opportunities," Higgs said. "Over the last few years we've had some quality cricket matches and it's been good for our program and to put people into state programs.
"We're lucky enough where we play second XI [state] cricket, we've got games against Ireland, we've played against the Big Bash League franchises. If you're from the country or you've missed out on going through the under-age [development] programming, there is another opportunity.
"The player who stands up in these sorts of matches is the guy that goes on and takes that opportunity."
Comets captain Jono Dean leads by that example. Dean smashed an eye-catching 51 off 38 balls in last year's Prime Minister's XI match against the West Indies and was then signed by BBL team the Adelaide Strikers.
Dean will play in the BBL with the Strikers again this summer and, despite being 30, still has the ambition to break through to first-class state cricket.
"I've been doing a lot of work with Higgsy on improving my longer format of the game because it's still an aspiration to play some longer-form cricket in that format," Dean said.
"Opportunity's a good word, we've been using it a lot lately. The opportunity to play against World Cup sides - it's proven in the past, if you can perform at the right time you get the opportunity. All the boys will be stinging to get out there and do well against Afghanistan and Ireland. Opportunity's the word of the year."
Afghanistan and Ireland are looking to prepare ahead of next year's Cricket World Cup, given both teams will play a match at Canberra's Manuka Oval.
Canberra will host three games in the World Cup: Bangladesh v Afghanistan, February 18; West Indies v Zimbabwe, February 24; and South Africa v Ireland, March 3.