Second-string team should come at a second-string price

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If Cricket Australia wants to continue selecting second-string teams to represent the nation, then paying cricket fans should be entitled to some kind of financial compensation for the sudden drop in viewing quality.

Those fans who paid their hard-earned cash in advance to watch one-day games live at the MCG and Adelaide Oval in the upcoming series against Sri Lanka will have done so thinking they’d be watching the best Australian cricketers taking on the best opposition team.

They no doubt opened their wallets to purchase that elite experience in good faith, but now have every reason to feel a little swindled by the last-minute decisions made by high-ranking cricketing authorities.

Those on the aggrieved list would also include some members of the Victorian and South Australian cricketing associations, of which there are tens of thousands.

This summer, spectators are already dealing with a substantial slump in the overall quality of the Sri Lankan side due to injuries sustained on tour.

In particular they would note the loss of Kumar Sangakkara, whose rich batting talents are greatly appreciated by Australian audiences.

But adding insult to audience injury, the Australian selectors deposed prolific skipper Michael Clarke; exciting, crowd-pulling opening batsman David Warner; and in-form keeper-batsman Matthew Wade from the Commonwealth Bank Series squad.

Man of the moment Michael Hussey has also been axed, with the national selectors giving the excuse that they’re now taking a long-term view towards the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Notable omissions were also made from the national team’s last match against Pakistan in Sharjah last September, with James Pattinson out due to injury and Dan Christian excluded.

Enigmatic all-rounder Shane Watson is another top-line player to be absent from the upcoming contest, injured again.

Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Phil Hughes are the only survivors of the Test series win over Sri Lanka to feature in the selected one-day squad.

Clarke, Warner, Wade and Hussey all featured in the six Test matches this summer against South Africa and Sri Lanka.

No matter which way you slice it or dice it, the selected Australian one day squad falls considerably short of delivering a wholesome, quality cricketing meal, lacking key ingredients and hardly worth paying top dollar for.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland played down the issue this week, saying the first two games of the Commonwealth Bank series would provide an opportunity for upcoming players to prove their worth.

He said he can understand people’s disappointment at the selections.

But he stressed a big picture focus was needed on the future of Australian cricket, with some important competitions to be won down the track.

What’s cricket’s master chef really said though is this: “Cricket fans are expected to pay the same entry price for a cheapened experience, and subsidise Cricket Australia using the elite stage to develop its next level of international players, rather than the various State competitions”.

As expected, Clarke, Wade and Warner will not be available to play for their respective Big Bash Twenty20 League teams while being rested.

But having the best players unavailable at the next level of competition is nothing new for Australian cricket fans, and the lack of depth is another major issue facing the game’s development in this nation that’s not been adequately addressed for many years.

Cricket Australia’s reasoning for resting key players, and stated intention to have them returned to the ODI squad refreshed, will do little to appease the paying public who lined up early to buy tickets to these first two games of the series.

Their support must be dwindling as fast as the daily temperature is rising on the east coast, making a day at the beach seem far more attractive than getting their wallets burnt by cricketing authorities.

(I won’t even start a rant about the obscene cost of food and drink once entry is gained at the venues.)

This inequity with the rotation policy and the paying public’s dissatisfaction was first brought to my attention a couple of years ago when Cricket Australia rested Ricky Ponting for a one-dayer at the WACA Ground.

Ponting was one particular fan’s favourite player, and his anticipation and expectation of seeing the Australian batting legend taking on an international attack had been building for months leading up to the game.

The decision to rest the icon cricketer was made only a few days out from the Perth game, and a hollow feeling has continued to haunt that once enthusiastic fan, and warned him off buying tickets early.

The viewing public should also be entitled to hold grave doubts about the authenticity of the different messages pitched to them about elite cricket, in the various advertising campaigns used to promote this summer’s international cricket calendar, and others in years ahead.

Big name players feature heavily in the spruiking, but of course there’s no mention of any last minute changes, rotations or second-string players fronting up for the day as replacements for players like Warner, Clarke and Hussey.

I’m sure there’s a disclaimer somewhere on the entry ticket or membership vouchers, in small print, which tells fans they may not see the best players playing against the best opponents on the day, with the selection panel’s maligned rotation policy cleverly inscribed into legal jargon.

But every single weasel word will leave those fans with nothing but a sour taste in their mouths and no doubt they too will think twice before committing to buying any more tickets in advance.

They may even start feeling like the bastard relative of the Australian cricket family, who lacks a legal or accounting degree.

The selection of a clearly second-string team sends a resounding message to the Australian cricket fans and general public that Cricket Australia has an open licence to treat them like second-class citizens.

You’d also have to wonder what the sponsors of the one-day series think when the Australian selectors decide to rest the same big-name stars that are also used to advertise the games, alongside their commercial logo.

At Adelaide Oyal the cost of general admission for an adult is about $50, while the gate price is $10 for a domestic one-day match.

So, given Sunday’s match will provide much better viewing than a domestic one-dayer – but falls a long way short of reaching elite international status – perhaps Cricket Australia could drop the gate entry price to somewhere between the two.

A suggested formulae for the new gate entry cost could be reached by taking the number of available players who should be playing in the Australian first XI – in this case four, with Clarke, Warner, Wade and Hussey – and refund on that percentage.

Cricket Australia also offers refunds for games affected by rain, according to the number of overs bowled on the day.

With almost half the Australian team missing from these two one-day games, perhaps 100 percent should be the refunded amount.

The policy says, “Except as provided for under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, in no other circumstances shall a refund be payable.”

If that’s not enough literature, aggrieved fans may like to look a little closer at the Competition and Consumer Act to see where they really stand on this issue of diminished quality.

I’m sure if the Royal Shakespeare Company advertised the appearance of Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts all appearing together in a performance of Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon theatre, but only the understudies turned up on the night, there’d be a strong cause to provide full or partial refunds to the fans, or they may even mount a complete boycott.

Colin Bettles has a long history of involvement in cricket, including Editor of Cricket Week, Media manager for the WACA for seven years and is the Canberra Bureau Chief for Fairfax’s Agricultural Media.

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