In Australia the game of cricket (the national game) has been thrown into a period of turbulence that precious few seem to know how to emerge from – most conspicuously, the game’s administrators. Much debate about the future of the game, if not the overwhelming majority, centres on the apparent demise of the 50-over game and the rise of T20, however amongst all this there is one factor that receives comparatively little attention. Here’s a clue – the same side always wins.
In the past many would’ve said that Australians are too one-eyed to grow tired of a winning team it, but not anymore. It simply can’t be ignored that a drop in interest towards cricket shown by the Australian public over the recent international summer was in inverse proportion to the performance of the Australian cricket team. At least when they’re playing on Australian shores, the more easily they win, the less we care. Quite simply, the game in this country has become a victim of the national teams’ success.
For Australian cricket fans, it seems you need to follow the team abroad if you want to get the blood pumping. And I must add here, thank you Scott Styris. Thank you for swatting Mitchell Johnson over the fence and then telling him that while his looks could easily place him on the set of Home and Away, so too could his one-dimensional character. After this summer’s results against the West Indies and Pakistan were as a predictable as a master chef contestant serving up steak and mash with a red wine jus, Styris’ show of defiance was just what Australian cricket fans needed.
But back to the drop off in interest in cricket played in Australia. It is my opinion that the decline in interest, both in terms of crowds at the gate and TV sets tuned in, is not something new but when viewed in a wider context, little more than an inevitability.
Looking at test cricket played in this country between 1993/94 and 2009/10, it doesn’t get much more one-sided. While South Africa won a three test series 2-1 in Australia in 2008/09, Australia had been nothing short of dominant for the fifteen years previous to this going back to 1993/94. In this time they didn’t lose a single series and only lost a total of ten tests out of 87 played. What’s more, there were 14 series in this period that were white-washes. Undoubtedly, no matter how good opposition individual performances were at times, such dominance becomes at best tiring and at worst downright nauseating.
Of course one-day cricket hasn’t been as one-sided, and while the game has clearly weathered badly from over exposure, nothing has over-cooked this goose more than the lack of competiveness of so many ‘contests’ (Australia’s recent one-day games against Pakistan and West Indies anyone?).
Stemming from this is not right to assume that it is not the form of the game that matters but the competitiveness of it? Play 15, 20, 30 or 50 overs, it doesn’t matter, as long as there are two teams on the field who are able to take it up to one another. In Australia, for too long teams have toured and been too ready to chuck in the towel comfortable in the knowledge that they’ll appease their fans and selectors when they return home to win a three test series against Sri Lanka. Woopie.
The glaring under performance of teams visiting Australian shores is one of the major issues in the game today and if let to continue the popularity of cricket in this country will continue to decrease, if not plummet.
While the shortened length of T20 evens out contests to some extent as flaws exposed in longer versions of the game remain hidden, surely what is needed is a wider blue-print for avoiding series white-washes like the two that just occurred in Australia. As the numbers tell you, people can’t and won’t keep expending the money or the the emotional energy every year hoping that David will knock-over Goliath. A critical mass will be reached at some point.
We know that we can’t go on as is, however we hear precious little from Cricket Australia and the ICC and as such we sit and wait, all the while crying out desperately for regular competitive international cricket in Australia. And not just once every decade, but year-in year-out. But what is being done?
While the cricket world as a hole waits to see how the game will emerge from this period of turbulence ― where suddenly all news is of global T20 franchises and the death of the one-day game ― the greater question of how to make international cricket competitive, at all levels, seems to have slipped from view.
For too long cricket administrators have done too little to redress this gross imbalance in the game. Sitting unseen in their ivory tower, eyes shut, it appears all they want is for the problems of the game to simply go away. If they continue in this vain the game will fade away ― in Australia it has already showed signs of doing so.
While T20 certainly is right in the middle of this, I believe that the seeds that caused this upheaval were not sown with the introduction on T20 cricket but long ago, when all seemed to be sailing along smoothly.
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