Thursday, 31 October 2013

Cricket needs to remain "Marvellous"

Daylight savings has arrived, the back lawn is growing faster than my new born son, the smell of fresh cut grass is in the air, Spring Carnival is here. Bring on the cricket!!

I love this time of year as the weather is generally on the improve and the international summer of cricket is just around the corner ("yesh, welcome back here to the MCG, or the Gabba, or the WACA, or the Adelaide Oval or the SCG, doesn't matter, where we are, down under in Australia this shummer").
The Poms are in town for the return Ashes series that comprises five Tests, five one dayers and three T20s. While I am seriously excited about the Test series, I just can't get excited about the rest. 

In fact, I have been bored with limited overs cricket for the best part of five years. Back in 1977 when Kerry Packer unleashed World Series Cricket, a new phenomenon was born. One day cricket was exciting, fast paced, rejuvenating. Some thirty odd years later, it has lost its charm. 

For starters, I believe the scheduling of one day international ("ODI") cricket has had an adverse effect on the game here in Australia. It seems that there is a limited overs game just about every week in some part of the world. Series no longer mean much to fans as teams literally fly across the globe to play three to seven match series without a corresponding Test series. The more mini series that are played, the more the game loses its appeal.

In my opinion, nearly all ODI games follow one of two patterns. Either it is played on a small ground, with a lightning outfield on a pitch that offers as much assistance to the bowlers as Julia Gillard offered to the nation as PM. Cheap shot I know, but I'm Dom Meese and this is My Piece! so I'll say what I want! ;) Every third delivery is dispatched to the boundary or long into a sun burnt crowd. 

If it's not a slog-a-thon, the game usually pans out in the following manner. Score early while the new ball is hard and the field is up, then push singles to the fielders on the fence for thirty long overs and have a swing at the end.

ODI rarely offers much to the bowlers. It is heavily biased to the batsman. Seldom do you see a game where the ball is continuously beating the bat and batsman have to grind out a score of 180 to 200. 

Compare the current ODI series between Australia and India, where there has been a feast of runs and two of the biggest run chases ever, to the recent Test series there where every ball an Indian spinner sent down was like a hand grenade to the batsman. Just ask Phil Hughes.

Compared to Test cricket which is tactical, testing in terms of mental strength and concentration, and has endless battles within the battle, one day cricket is boring and usually quite predictable.

To me, ODI cricket died when the Australian selectors decided to select a specialist one day team, rather than predominately the same team as the Test team. I'm almost certain this began when Mark Taylor was dropped from the one day side leaving Steve Waugh as captain, while Taylor remained as the Test captain. It was the first time we had two national captains at once.

Instead of seeing a line up something along the lines of:

M Waugh
S Waugh

in both forms of the game, we began to see specialist one day players like Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, James Hopes and in recent times, Clint McKay. When the two sides consisted of a similar lineup like the one mentioned above, it was interesting to see how they adapted to the different styles of ODI and Test cricket. Seeing Tubby try and tee off in a one day game was always great viewing as was watching Mark Waugh set up a Test innings over time rather than gracefully smashing bowlers all over the place.

Numerous recent players in the ODI team had hardly been heard of by fans prior to their debut. Forget letting the fans form an opinion on whether they were good enough to play for Australia. The baggy yellow is now handed out as easily as K Rudd's $900 stimulus cheques.

It's no wonder crowds in Australia have dropped off substantially to what they were five to ten years ago. Last year, Australia played the West Indies at the MCG and pulled a crowd of 21,962. Granted, the Windies weren't much chop but compared to five plus years ago when the 'G was just about three quarters full, it's a damning crowd. 

In 2012/13, the average crowd at one day games in Australia was a little over 16,000 compared to an average of anywhere between 19,000 - 30,000 in the previous ten years.

T20 cricket has been introduced in the last few years to makeup for the declining interest in ODI cricket. Like World Series Cricket, it is new and fresh and exciting. It has a limited lifespan if ODI cricket is anything to go by.

The International Cricket Council has a difficult headache given other countries enjoy one day cricket more than Test cricket. Fans in Sri Lanka and the sub continent love the short forms of the game while Test cricket hardly pulls a crowd.

Cricket has some serious strategic planning to do in order to bring back the appeal of all forms of the game. It needs to bring back the crowds and bring back the serious competitive feeling for fans in every series. The announcement of a Test cricket world championship is a start and a great idea to try and help Test cricket mean more. 

Let's hope in another thirty years time, we are still saying cricket is the summer sport of Australia and Richie Benaud's words can still ring true...."Coz when it's shummer in Australia, I can tell you if you don't like cricket that's a real bummer coz cricket is the number one sport in town!"

All the best,
Dom Meese

1 comment:

  1. Could be an age thing. I remember old blokes bagging "pyjama cricket" when I was a kid and thought they were mad. The one-day series and World Cup was where it was at for me and my mates. Couldn't be further from the truth now.

    Lack of competition is a major factor - if the Windies ever get back to producing lightning fast bowlers and cavalier batsman the game will grow with it. Tinkering with the product hasn't helped. I can hardly keep up with a ODI these days what with rule changes, field restrictions and what-not. DRS is a shambles - technology is overstepping its boundaries in most areas of life and sport in general and cricket particularly is no exception.