Merv Hughes in his glory days with the Comets in 1997. Photo: Pat Scala
Cricket ACT is poised to form a powerful alliance with Country Cricket NSW and Cricket NSW, strengthening its bid for the Comets to be re-admitted into the national one-day competition in the summer of 2015-16.
The ACT Comets were axed from the domestic one-day competition in 2000, but are set to be reincarnated as the ACT-NSW Country Comets in a united push to return to the highest level of domestic cricket by next year.
Cricket ACT, Country Cricket NSW and NSW Cricket met in Sydney this week to finalise details of a memorandum of understanding that will officially divide playing talent across NSW and the ACT.
Canberra's Jono Dean plays for Adelaide in the Big Bash League but may get more representative chances closer to home with the ACT-NSW Country Comets. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
While the NSW Blues would still be the major representative team based in Sydney, Canberra would be the central base for all NSW players outside the Sydney metropolitan area.
It would more than double the population of the ACT's current catchment area to approximately 3 million, also aiding Cricket ACT's long-term ambition for expansion into the Big Bash League and Sheffield Shield.
Cricket ACT chairman Ian McNamee confirmed the proposal for a Comets team to join the 2015-16 national one-day competition would be an agenda item at Cricket Australia's board meeting in Melbourne on September 17-18.
Cricket ACT chairman Ian McNamee. Photo: Andrew Johnston
"It's certainly been discussed at top level and most people seem to be in favour of it occurring," McNamee said.
"NSW are very keen for another team because they can only pick a certain amount of players, so there'll be more players exposed [to elite cricket] because of it.
"With this memorandum of understanding our population base is 3 million, that's basically bigger than Western Australia, South Australia and six times bigger than Tasmania."
The agreement is also likely to see Canberra host at least one annual NSW Sheffield Shield match from 2015-16 onwards.
It's understood the Comets are in the process of being rebranded as the ACT-NSW Country Comets and will likely contest this summer's second-tier Futures League competition under that banner. The team will be selected drawing the best players from Country NSW as well as the ACT.
While ACT players have traditionally had to move interstate to pursue cricketing careers, McNamee said competing at higher levels would attract players to Canberra.
The Comets competed in the national one-day competition for three seasons from 1997-98 to 1999-2000, before being axed by CA. That squad was complemented by marquee recruits, Australian Test veterans Mike Veletta and Merv Hughes.
"It attracted a lot of players to Canberra, it greatly strengthened the grade competition and we would see these new moves again re-strengthen the grade competition," McNamee said.
"You've already got the Comets here, so we'd have the nucleus of that team with a couple of marquee players."
McNamee was confident Canberra could financially support a one-day team and said he'd been in discussions with multi-national corporations based in India and China.
"Because canberra is the capital they're wanting a higher profile in Canberra ... if we get a team at the right level, I don't think funding would be a problem."
Canberra is preparing for its biggest cricketing summer ever, including:
- A one-day international between Australia and South Africa on November 19;
- The Prime Minister's XI match against England on January 14;
- The Big Bash League final on January 28, and;
- Three World Cup matches in February-March 2015
While the BBL has no short-term plans for expansion, McNamee said the ACT would continue to work towards an expansion bid.
McNamee said the multi-million renovations at Manuka Oval, particularly lighting, had opened doors for Cricket ACT.
"The big thing now is the recognition by Cricket Australia of the importance of the national capital and they are wanting to provide games here," McNamee said.
"The lights have changed the landscape completely. We now have one of the top cricket venues in Australia fullstop."