Almanac Cricket: The BBL and Test Cricket

This Australian summer of cricket is an historic one.

Why? For many reasons. The triumph of the day/night Test in Adelaide, the spectacular disappointment of the West Indies, the formation of the Women’s Twenty20 Big Bash League and the retirement of veteran paceman Mitch Johnson.

But one aspect of the Australian summer has made a positive yet worrying impact on cricket.

The BBL.

The Boxing Day Test has just started, just over a fortnight after the first Test at Hobart. In this match, the Australians smashed 583 in their first innings on the back of a 449 run partnership between Adam Voges and Shaun Marsh. These runs were scored at rate of 5.11 runs per over. The Windies responded by being bowled out for 223 and 148, losing by a whopping innings and 212 runs. Paceman Shannon Gabriel was injured and did not bat.

In short, a shocking Test for the West Indies and a worrying sign for its cricket.

In the fortnight between matches, the Australian domestic 20/20 league began and is now in full flight. Every single game of the BBL is screened on Channel Ten, with a game of cricket on every single night until Christmas Eve.

The games are commentated on telly by former Australian stars such as Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Fleming and Mark Waugh, as well as Englishman Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff. Mel McLaughlin, Mark Howard and Andy Maher are the only three non-cricketers in the box.

That’s not all either. Eight matches of the WBBL are being screened on Channel One, commentated by Australian ex-cricketers Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar as well as Andy Maher.

The games are shown live and in great quality, but what really sparks attention is how much the commentary team are involved out on the ground.

Usually the team in the box have access to a camera located on a batsman’s helmet, while they have direct contact to a member of the fielding side, who they talk to throughout the match. While it’s only a single batsman and fielder who the commentary team have access to, the insights and points of view they receive from the players are a huge part of the broadcast.

During Sunday’s match between the Melbourne Stars and the Sydney Thunder at the MCG, Kevin Pietersen, who was currently batting, was chatting good-naturedly with the commentators all the way through his innings of 76. One of the most intriguing parts of this innings is where Pietersen, when asked to reveal where he would hit the next ball by Ricky Ponting. Pietersen nominated deep fine leg as his hitting zone, before preceding to smack a towering six over the designated area.

It made for enthralling television, and KP’s knock certainly entertained all 18,809 spectators at the MCG.

Which brings us to another worrying issue facing Test cricket. Just 15,343 fans attended the three-day Test between Australia and the West Indies at Hobart, a number that only just eclipsed the 14,848 that attended the BBL game between the Hobart Hurricanes and the Brisbane Heat on Tuesday. With the shorter form of the game being easier on the wallet and easier for families to attend, BBL looks to overtake Test cricket as the preferred form of cricket.

So what steps can be taken to arrest the fall of Test cricket and restore it to its former glory?

Well, I believe we saw the answer to that just under a month ago in South Australia.

The day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval went for the same amount of time as the recent Hobart Test, yet 123,736 people attended the historic match. Considering that number is eight times the amount of spectators at Hobart, it isn’t too difficult to draw a conclusion.

That number, by the way, is not a red herring. The attendance level of the Adelaide Test is over double the crowd of the five-day Gabba Test between Australia and New Zealand of 53,572 and over triple of the number of fans who attended the five-day WACA Test, also between the above two nations that occurred earlier this season.

It may be a controversial form of the game, but the ICC has to face that with the dwindling crowd levels in Test matches, something has to be done to get those numbers back to their former glory.

Spectators in this day and age also want to be entertained; they want to have something to look at, something to be involved in as the match goes on. In T20, we see mascots wandering around the fence, fireworks going off at every wicket or boundary, dancers going about their business in the stands. Having something like this in Test cricket would be as sacrilegious as cricket can get, but a little fan involvement may help attendance levels as well.

Day/night Tests in the future look more and more likely every week, and Cricket Australia has already flagged the prospect of another day/night Test to be held in Canberra. How day/night Tests will be implemented is going to be a difficult task: I would suggest a gradual raise in Tests played under lights. By 2017/18’s cricket season, maybe two day/night matches could be played, and in 2019/20 maybe three. It needs to be a process handled with extreme care, paying close attention to crowd numbers as each match is played.

There should never be a summer, however, where every Test is played under lights. Some things must remain sacred, after all!

About Paddy Grindlay

Paddy is new to the city and thinks it's all a bit much at the moment. He's studying at RMIT University and can be found 'round the traps.

Comments

  1. Well said Paddy. Did you read what Greg Baum wrote in The Age yesterday ? It resonates.

    If Test Cricket now revolves around the Big 3, us India and England it’s future is very limited. We can have as many day-night tests as we want but if the problem is the format/nature of test cricket, then we have a major issues. 20/20 is where the interest is and more importantly the money.

    As a test buff I will always follow this form of the game, but it’s rapidly being surpassed by 20/20. Sadly it might be viewed like the greyhound races, an old mans pastime.

    Tell;; me i’m wrong Paddy.

    Glen!

  2. One thing I would do would be to chuck unsold tickets out there for a session. It costs $21 to be ripped off by hoyts these days and I’d pay that to go watch two hours of cricket. But not $100 for 6 hours in these time-poor days.

  3. And there are too many tests. Period. We used to go a whole summer without a test. Now we can’t go three months without a series.

    We either need to contract back so there are banner series. Or expand and give it a tournament context like the Olympics or the World Cup soccer. We are stuck in the middle, and have even overplayed the Ashes card.Tennis and golf have it about right, to the point that players and fans can structure their interest around the majors. Something is possible that works for everyone. Surely???

  4. Paddy Grindlay says

    Peter – totally agree. There are simply too many Tests in the year. The players are currently spending months and months away from their families and with all this cricket they surely cannot be plying the same standard all year long. Also agree with your ticketing idea. Half-price tickets after lunch, free after tea would be a good idea. My family was thinking about going these last two days, but the ticketing price and weather forecast changed our minds.

    Glen – unfortunately the “greyhound racing” phenomenon is already happening in today’s youth. The appeal of entertainment and excitement that the T20 has draws kids away from Test cricket, which can be at times slow and gritty. The young people of today always want to be entertained by something – nearly everyone under 22 I see in the streets has either headphones on or is concentrating on a game or social media on their phone. T20’s are quick and exciting, so today’s youth are easily drawn to it.

  5. Admire your passion Paddy, “but the ICC has to face that…….” implies that the ICC (i.e. India) give a rat’s about Test Cricket. They manifestly don’t and haven’t for over a decade. There are no rupees in Test Cricket.
    Earth to Mars – only traditionalist fans care about test cricket. It makes no money. Players used to care, but have increasingly been bought off.
    Adelaide was the only enjoyable test of the summer, but it is a unique venue with its grass banks and historic atmosphere. Day/night tests are worth trying, but I doubt they would work sustainably in a lot of other venues – e.g. the Gabba and WACA – which are both horrible venues. (One soulless; the other decrepit and uncomfortable.)
    This is a dead parrot. If it hadn’t been nailed to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies.

  6. Thanks for this well-thought out piece, Paddy.

    I believe that reports of Test cricket’s demise are greatly exaggerated. The last decade or so has seen some great test match cricket, and the crowds have not been too shabby. (In Hobart, even Punter couldn’t drag them through the gate).

    50,000 plus then 40,000 plus for the first two days of this Test versus a sub-standard opposition is an excellent result, surely. And as someone who was at Adelaide for the pink-ball Test, I must say that I loved it.

  7. Also, I like Cranky Pete’s suggestion on flexible ticket pricing.
    Innovate and smart!

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