FORMER New Zealand international Chris Cairns says it is ''fundamentally wrong'' the ACT isn't a full member of Cricket Australia and that it deserves its own first-class cricket team.
As the debate about whether Canberra should replace Hobart in the Test-match rotation heats up, Cairns said the first step was the ACT entering the Sheffield Shield and Ryobi Cup competitions.
Cairns, who enjoyed a stellar 18-year international career and now resides in Canberra, said inclusion into the first-class arena should be the focus before campaigning for Test matches and a team in the Big Bash League.
''You have to be a state to be a full member, and I believe that is fundamentally wrong,'' Cairns said. ''The ACT deserves just as much as any other state to be a full member of Cricket Australia.
''It's imperative the ACT gets first-class status, that's priority No.1. In half a dozen years we can put our hand up and be in a position to earn the right to host a Test match on the back of our performances as a first-class area.''
While the ACT has never had its own first-class cricket team, the Canberra Comets were admitted into the national limited-overs competition in 1997 before that involvement ended after three seasons.
The ACT Comets now play four four-day games a season in the second-tier Futures League, while a week-long Twenty20 tournament for Futures League teams, dubbed the ''Baby Bash'', was scrapped at the end of last year.
The Comets have produced a host of players who have gone on to higher honours, including Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon, while four of the current squad - Mark Higgs, Ben Oakley (both Adelaide Strikers) and brothers Jono and Blake Dean (Melbourne Renegades) - have secured supplementary contracts for this season's Big Bash League but are yet to be called up.
Canberra is on track for its biggest dose of international cricket, with the Prime Minster's XI match in the first day-night game on January 29 followed by the inaugural visit of the Australian team for a one-day international on February 6. Both games are against the West Indies, under the newly-installed Manuka Oval lights.
Strong crowds for those games will enhance Canberra's push for a Test match as early as the 2015-16 season. While Cairns believes that is too soon, the task at hand is developing an avenue for juniors to progress through the ranks without having to leave the ACT.
''There is some definite talent here, but I think the belief of players is missing a little bit because the pathway is not in Canberra for them,'' Cairns said.
''If the ACT had the same amount of funding that the other first-class states have, the infrastructure boom that would occur means the facilities are going to improve and juniors are going to be exposed to good games.''