Australian cricket: a zero-sum game?

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Australian cricketer reacts after West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle hit a ball to boundary during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup's semi-final match between West Indies and Australia at the R. Premadasa International Cricket Stadium in Colombo on October 5, 2012. West Indies captain Darren Sammy won the toss and elected to bat against Australia in the World Twenty20 semi-final in Colombo on Friday. AFP PHOTO/ LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI

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Cricket is transitioning through an interesting time. A time which, more than anything, is defined by its variety.

T20s, One-dayers, Test matches; these all provide spectators with something unique and, in turn, draw in fans for contrasting reasons.

Some enjoy the fast pace and fireworks of a T20; some the lengthier battle of a One-dayer; and others the tradition and trial of a Test match.

In the days before T20s a cricketing summer was divided in two: Test matches and One-dayers – an arrangement that always appeared to promote balance.

However, now we find ourselves with three formats, and the balance seems to be slightly askew.

Despite all being spawn of the same seed, the dynamic between these sports-format siblings appears to most recently be defined by rivalry, rather than support.

More and more it appears that a gain for one format comes at a loss for another.

To a certain extent cricket seems locked in a zero-sum game, with itself.

Players’ and spectators’ time and allegiance both only stretch so far – a distance that currently appears to be somewhere between two and three formats.

Recently, Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland stated, “The game is in a period of transition where it is yet to find its equilibrium with the three formats of the game.”

This statement certainly conveys the truth, however it falters through Sutherland’s implied assumption that a point of equilibrium between the three formats will be reached, and that the balance cricket experienced pre-T20s will return.

This also asks questions such as: How do we reach a point of equilibrium between the formats? And, is it even possible to recover the balance we enjoyed for so long pre-T20s?

Currently, the heart of the matter could simply be attempting the task of maintaining three formats and at the same time pushing (and hoping) that spectators disperse their enthusiasm equally.

One thing is for sure; this hope is certainly not aided by quality players being rested for seemingly big matches.

Perhaps such a reality is much easier to envision than it is to ensure.

The other day, Brett Lee came out firing at selectors for picking a “weak” squad for the first One-dayer against Sri-Lanka.

His argument expressed concern that fans don’t want to pay to see a second string team – fans pay to see the likes of David Warner and Michael Clarke.

Considering the MCG has not drawn in over 50,000 to a One-dayer for six years, Lee’s point is very valid – an understrength side is not the first step to regaining crowds or enthusiasm for a format.

Now it is no secret that One-dayers have struggled in recent years, and are probably the only clear victim of format rivalry so far.

To only further its struggle, selectors have picked an underwhelming squad, and (not surprisingly) this sentiment has transferred to crowd expectations.

Of course, the motivations for doing so are driven by selectors’ newfound awareness of the importance of not overworking players – a result of the new reality of intense cricket schedules.

Motivations aside, it appears clear that with three formats in place, a point of equilibrium – that helps all formats flourish – might be very difficult to achieve.

When T20s emerged, fans became spoiled for choice. Now, depending on which format you prefer, you might be getting punished for it.

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