It’s been an up and down year for Cricket Australia. On the plus side, Steve Smith’s rehabilitation and forgiveness is complete. The relish with which he spent hours at the crease during the Ashes series, seemingly feeding off the “pantomime villain” role handed to him by the Barmy Army was a sight to behold. By the time the series was over, even those partisan supporters could not keep the boos going and were showing grudging admiration.
It was also a series in which Australia did enough to retain the Ashes, although without the heroics of that one man, it would have been a different story. Despite his standing head and shoulders above the rest, England were still able to level the series. This came on the back of an ultimately disappointing World Cup campaign in which Australia’s top order batting in the semi-final foreshadowed what was to follow in the longer form.
Test match cricket’s return to the Gabba
This, then, was the backdrop to the gold standard of cricket’s return to Brisbane on 21 November for the first test against Pakistan. It’s a series that was expected to provide ample opportunity for the rest of Australia’s top order to find some form, and perhaps for some young talent to show the old-timers how it’s done.
That’s exactly what happened, and the team glided to an emphatic win. Warner looked back to his imperious best at the top of the order, Labuschagne pressed on to prove he could prove to be one of the all-time greats and the victory margin was an innings and five runs. What a shame, then, that the biggest story to hit the headlines was that there was barely anyone there to see it happen.
An absolute disgrace
There has been plenty of media speculation as to whether Brisbane will retain the tradition of hosting the first test of key series. It’s something that the players want – after all, Australia’s record at the Gabba is exemplary – and test fans soon start to protest at the suggestion of changing this long tradition. But if the paltry crowd of fewer than 5,000 spectators for the fourth day’s play is anything to go by, many will argue that Brisbane test fans simply have too quiet a voice.
Former test opener and Cricket NSW Director Ed Cowan called the attendance “an absolute disgrace.” Cowan scored his first and only test century at the Gabba back in 2012, so is as fond of the venue as anyone. However, he feels that dwindling numbers mean it is a case of when, not if, the first test of the summer will relocate.
Are we turning away from test cricket?
We all lead busy lives, but the growing sense of apathy towards test cricket runs deeper than stands being 90 percent empty, serious though that is. In this online age, there are stats available on everything, and nowhere more so than in sports betting.
Australians have always loved a wager or two, whatever the sport, and this passion has increased in the internet age. That’s a thorny issue in itself (you can read all about Australia’s sports betting rules at https://www.bestcasinosites.net/australia/ for the full story) but one thing that’s become clear is that among punters, cricket is practically a minority sport.
Statistics from market researchers at Roy Morgan show that more than 50 percent of sports bets are placed on horse racing. That, in itself, might come as no surprise, but it is how the rest is split that will raise eyebrows. A further 25 percent, so half of the remainder is devoted to harness racing and greyhound racing. Rugby league accounts for 7.6 percent and AFL 6.8 percent. Cricket is lumped collectively into the remaining 10 percent, alongside tennis, soccer, basketball, netball, swimming cycling and “many others.”
A worldwide problem
Ed Smith, the former England batsman and current ECB Chairman of Selectors, said last year that test match cricket is a game in decline. Clearly, then, the problem goes far beyond Brisbane or even Australia. It’s easy to blame the spectators, but could there also be a degree of apathy among the players?
The introduction of a World Test Championship was designed to make every test important and remove “dead rubbers.” However, with so many series “not counting” it has only served to downgrade these and exacerbate the apathy.
One thing is certain. There’s nothing quite like a test match, and the first test of a series always has a special feel to it. It’s something Queenslanders need to think hard about, as once it’s lost, it could be gone forever.