In every sports competition in the world, fans of one team will claim another team gets more favourable treatment than their own, whether it’s selection in representative teams, concessions regarding player salaries or favourable refereeing decisions. Cricket in Australia is no different. The dawn of summer is almost inevitably accompanied by bleating, generally from Victorian fans, about how players from New South Wales are more likely to be selected in the national team than players from other states. This opinion found a voice in David Hookes, who claimed:
"When they give out the baggy blue cap in New South Wales, they give you a baggy green one in a brown paper bag as well to save making two presentations."
It’s about time we put this idea to the test. Since the 1977/78 season, all 6 Australian states have played in the Sheffield Shield, Australia’s domestic first-class cricket competition. Since 1982/83, the season has culminated in a grand final (previous to this the winner was determined league style by whoever won the most throughout the season). I will use data from 1982/83 till now for consistency and so that all states are represented. The following table shows the players who have debuted for Australia since the start of the 1982/83 season, the state they were playing for at the time of their debut, and the number of Tests they played throughout their career.
|Carl Rackemann||1982–91||12||Qld||Matthew Elliott||1996–2004||21||Vic|
|Kepler Wessels||1982–85||24||Qld||Michael Kasprowicz||1996–2006||38||Qld|
|Tom Hogan||1983–84||7||WA||Jason Gillespie||1996–2006||71||SA|
|Roger Woolley||1983–84||2||Tas||Andy Bichel||1997–2003||19||Qld|
|Wayne B. Phillips||1983–86||27||SA||Shaun Young||1997||1||Tas|
|John Maguire||1983–84||3||Qld||Simon Cook||1997||2||NSW|
|Greg Matthews||1983–93||33||NSW||Stuart MacGill||1998–2008||44||NSW|
|Steve Smith||1984||3||NSW||Gavin Robertson||1998||4||NSW|
|Dean Jones||1984–92||52||Vic||Paul Wilson||1998||1||SA|
|David Boon||1984–96||107||Tas||Adam Dale||1998–99||2||Qld|
|Bob Holland||1984–86||11||NSW||Darren Lehmann||1998–2004||27||SA|
|Murray Bennett||1984–85||3||NSW||Colin Miller||1998–2001||18||Tas|
|Craig McDermott||1984–96||71||Qld||Matthew Nicholson||1998||1||WA|
|Simon O'Donnell||1985||6||Vic||Adam Gilchrist||1999–2008||96||WA|
|Dave Gilbert||1985–86||9||NSW||Scott Muller||1999||2||Qld|
|Robbie Kerr||1985||2||Qld||Brett Lee||1999–2010||76||NSW|
|Merv Hughes||1985–94||53||Vic||Simon Katich||2001–||56||WA|
|Geoff Marsh||1985–92||50||WA||Martin Love||2002–03||5||Qld|
|Bruce Reid||1985–92||27||WA||Brad Williams||2003–04||4||WA|
|Steve Waugh||1985–2004||168||NSW||Nathan Bracken||2003–05||5||NSW|
|Simon Davis||1986||1||Vic||Andrew Symonds||2004–09||26||Qld|
|Tim Zoehrer||1986–87||10||WA||Michael Clarke||2004–||67||NSW|
|Chris Matthews||1986–88||3||WA||Nathan Hauritz||2004–||17||Qld|
|Greg Dyer||1986–88||6||NSW||Shane Watson||2005–||25||Qld|
|Peter Taylor||1987–91||13||NSW||Shaun Tait||2005–08||3||SA|
|Mike Veletta||1987–90||8||WA||Michael Hussey||2005–||57||WA|
|Tim May||1987–95||24||SA||Brad Hodge||2005-08||6||Vic|
|Tony Dodemaide||1987–92||10||Vic||Phil Jaques||2005–08||11||NSW|
|Ian Healy||1988–99||119||Qld||Stuart Clark||2006–09||24||NSW|
|Trevor Hohns||1989||7||Qld||Dan Cullen||2006||1||SA|
|Mark Taylor||1989–99||104||NSW||Mitchell Johnson||2007–||40||Qld|
|Greg Campbell||1989–90||4||Tas||Chris Rogers||2008||1||WA|
|Tom Moody||1989–92||8||WA||Brad Haddin||2008–||30||NSW|
|Mark Waugh||1991–2002||128||NSW||Beau Casson||2008||1||NSW|
|Shane Warne||1992–2007||145||Vic||Cameron White||2008–09||4||Vic|
|Wayne N. Phillips||1992||1||Vic||Peter Siddle||2008–||20||Vic|
|Paul Reiffel||1992–98||35||Vic||Jason Krejza||2008||2||Tas|
|Damien Martyn||1992–2006||67||WA||Doug Bollinger||2009–||12||NSW|
|Justin Langer||1993–2007||105||WA||Andrew McDonald||2009||4||Vic|
|Jo Angel||1993–95||4||WA||Ben Hilfenhaus||2009–||15||Tas|
|Michael Slater||1993–2001||74||NSW||Phillip Hughes||2009–||8||NSW|
|Brendon Julian||1993–95||7||WA||Marcus North||2009–||21||WA|
|Glenn McGrath||1993–2007||124||NSW||Bryce McGain||2009||1||Vic|
|Matthew Hayden||1994–2009||103||Qld||Graham Manou||2009||1||SA|
|Michael Bevan||1994–98||18||NSW||Clint McKay||2009||1||Vic|
|Damien Fleming||1994–2001||20||Vic||Ryan Harris||2010–||4||SA|
|Phil Emery||1994||1||NSW||Tim Paine||2010||4||Tas|
|Greg Blewett||1995–2000||46||SA||Steven Smith||2010–||3||NSW|
|Peter McIntyre||1995–96||2||SA||Peter George||2010–||1||SA|
|Stuart Law||1995||1||Qld||Xavier Doherty||2010||2||Tas|
|Ricky Ponting||1995–||151||Tas||Michael Beer||2011–||1||WA|
|Brad Hogg||1996–2008||7||WA||Usman Khawaja||2011–||1||NSW|
Of the 104 players who debuted after 1982/83, 28 were playing for NSW when they were first picked for Australia (27% of the new players).
Clearly NSW players have played more Tests. But is this unreasonable? There are two measures we can look at here. Sheffield Shield results and state populations. The following shows the results of the Shield since 1982/83.
NSW has won 9 Shields, ahead of WA’s 7. If you look at the percentage of Shield wins per state and compare this to the number of players picked for Australia from that state, you will notice that these results are remarkably similar. Is it any surprise that the most successful team over this time has more players picked for representative honours? If you look at all the Tests played since 82/83, 34% of the Test positions up for grabs were occupied by NSW players, and the order of states is exactly the same as the order for number of Shield wins. This is strong evidence that rather than a selection bias, players are being picked either because they are the best players or because they have been a part of successful teams.
The second way to look at this is by state population. I don’t particularly like this method because sportsmen, especially in this professional age, move teams for many reasons, including for better opportunities and more pay, and don’t necessarily play for the state of their birth. The most populous state is not necessarily going to have the best team. But because this is often the first measure people look to when analysing team results (for example, Olympic results), and because arguably a larger population means a bigger economy and therefore more money flowing through the team, we shall include some analysis. Since 1982, NSW (+ACT) has averaged 36% of the total population of the states (excluding Northern Territory). Again, this matches quite closely the number of players picked for Australia – indeed, you might argue that more players from NSW should have been picked. It would be by this measure that Victorians may claim some bias.
|NSW + ACT||36%||31%|
Finally, let’s look at the one-test wonders – the players who only played one test.
|One Test wonders|
Victoria and SA share this honour with 4 one-test wonders – and this is possibly why David Hookes, of SA stock and coach of Victoria after his retirement, was cranky. In the case of SA, this is a third of their players who have made their debut since 1982/83 – indeed, 7 of their 12 Test players did not play more than 4 Tests. Tasmanian players also fair poorly in this regard, with 6 of their 10 players playing no more than 4 Tests – Tasmanian results are severely skewed by Ponting’s 151 and Boon’s 107 Tests.
No matter what state a Test player is from, he has roughly the same chance of playing 15 or more Tests. Thus the data does not support the idea that selectors are more likely to stick with NSW players through a patch of poor form.
|Percentage of state Test players (15+ Tests)|
I would be interested to hear your thoughts regarding this – I know it can stir some passions. But the data would suggest that there is no unfair bias towards NSW.
- I have made no attempt to look at players moving state during their careers. Simon Katich, for instance, had a career revival when playing for NSW, even though he was originally picked for Australia when playing for WA. Nathan Hauritz similarly had his fortunes revived when playing for NSW, even though he debuted when playing for Queensland. There are also many examples of this working the other way – Jason Krejza moved to Tasmania, and Adam Gilchrist to WA, both from NSW and then made their debut. Even Don Bradman first played for NSW before an ongoing career with SA.
- You could do the same analysis if you have time and patience on your hands for one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
- It was quite difficult in some cases to track which state a player was playing for when they made their Australian debut, especially if they moved state soon after. I have put the data here (some of the array formulae don't work in Google docs, and I have stripped out the macros, but you can redo them). If I have made a mistake, let me know!