Moving interstate helps beat the home-state blues
Usman Khawaja could slot back in the Australian Test team on Boxing Day, but as a Queensland player this time. Photo: Getty Images
THE late David Hookes once claimed Australia's selectors were so biased towards New South Wales players that they should post a baggy green cap with the blue one to avoid making two presentations.
Almost a decade after Hookes made that famous accusation, the best chance these days of getting a call-up to the Australian side could be by posting back the blue cap from interstate.
The elevation of Usman Khawaja and Jackson Bird to the squad for the second Test against Sri Lanka continues the recent trend of former Blues players earning national call-ups after they left NSW.
Khawaja was picked in six Tests last year as a NSW player, but if he replaces Michael Clarke on Boxing Day he will do so as an adopted Queenslander. Bird played at under-23 level for his home state but never at the highest level, meaning his departure was Tasmania's gain.
Their inclusions come one Test after Phillip Hughes was recalled to the Test side after switching from NSW, while John Hastings, Ed Cowan, Peter Forrest, Daniel Christian and Jason Krejza are others to have earned a recent national debut after seeking options elsewhere.
Adam Gilchrist's departure from his home state in the 1990s - he famously went to Western Australia because he could not dislodge Phil Emery, the then Blues skipper - shows how even some of the greatest slipped through the NSW system.
But other states have also seen future Test players go in recent years, such as Matthew Wade becoming a star in the making after leaving his native Tasmania and Ryan Harris establishing himself after heading to Queensland from South Australia.
Tasmania coach Tim Coyle, whose state has benefited from an influx of established players and potential stars from the mainland, said professional athletes were obliged to chase opportunities, especially when 30 was closer to the age most cricketers matured.
Coyle said in the case of Cowan, the Tigers could provide the assurance his native state could not.
''It's certainly happened in Tasmania, for a number of people for us who have got an opportunity to do well and then [played without being] worried about when the Test players come back, are they going to get dropped,'' he said.
''I know Ed talks about that a lot. In NSW he got some opportunities and might have done OK, but their wealth of international stars forced him out of the team. In Tasmania he got the opportunity to play consistently - not guaranteed a game - but so long as he performed he could stay in the team long-term and that's what's happened.''
Tasmania offered Bird a contract after monitoring his efforts in Sydney club cricket, but it was not a raid by stealth, as Cricket NSW chief executive David Gilbert said the Blues were close to picking the fast bowler, until they plumped for Trent Copeland.
Gilbert himself moved to Tasmania in the late 1980s when he could not see a way of overtaking Geoff Lawson, Mike Whitney and the spinners to get more games.
NSW was plunged into a player exodus this year when Hughes, Khawaja and Nathan Hauritz all left. But given his own history Gilbert said he could not fault players who chased opportunities when competition in the most-populous state was so tight.
"In terms of home-grown, the competition for spots isn't as intense (elsewhere) as it is here," he said.
"We have a lot of people vying for places and you’ve only got 11 spots to allocate. It's that competition ... those players have had to move because they want to play and you can't blame them for that."