It’s hard to imagine how the 2019 WBBL04 final between the Brisbane Heat and the Sydney Sixers to be played at 10.10am at Drummoyne Oval this Saturday is going to top the quality of games we saw in the semi-finals last weekend.
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For a while now, there has been debate about whether Test cricket is alive and well or whether it is on the deathbed.
For years when Test cricket is played in Australia against every team other than England, people draw conclusions about the health of the game.
Then, when England returns, the opposite conclusion is made.
For those familiar to my previous survey on the NRL, you may have seen me refer to “venue atmosphere”, which I defined as the percentage of seats filled in a venue. Using as many attendance figures over the past decade as I could find, I used this definition to see if there was a pattern – and there was.
In the graph above, you can see the current six Test cricket venues in Australia and their ‘atmosphere’ for Tests over the past decade. Note the Adelaide day-night Test is out of pattern with Adelaide’s best ‘atmosphere’ since 2006.
You can see a rough pattern form. When England plays, ‘atmosphere’ peaks rapidly but drops when it is against other Test cricket nations.
England Test matches are a sign of a ‘pulse’. This makes me propose that the problem of engagement in Test cricket is not the game itself but it depends on three indicators regarding the opponents.
These are sporting performance quality, rivalry and talent development.
England has always ticked the boxes in that regard. They are a quality team and the ‘Ashes’ rivalry with Australia is deeply embedded in both nations’ histories
Other teams, like the West Indies, are not playing to a competitive standard. There is now little rivalry and talent development is probably lower in numbers than Australia and England.
It is probably why Twenty20 leagues like the Big Bash League are gaining momentum. They are developing rivalries, have consistent performances and developing talent.
Based on the previous decade-long averages and by looking at the graph, you can see that ‘atmosphere’ is best in Perth followed by Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane then Hobart. Hobart has recently come under scrutiny regarding its low attendances, which this graph reinforces but a certain fact has been missed.
Hobart has never hosted an Ashes Test match, which as the graph shows sees an increase in ‘atmosphere’ when held.
In the graph, Hobart has followed the trend regarding average daily attendance during Test matches against all Test nations except England, with them having the second lowest atmosphere at roughly 29 per cent.
There are five Hobart data entries – 2005, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2015. Only the 2011 Hobart Test against New Zealand is missing. If Hobart hosted an Ashes Test match, while they would still have one of the lowest atmospheres they would likely follow the trend and see their atmosphere reach between 60 per cent and 70 per cent. That is more than just over a half full venue.
This would be a dramatic increase in attendance for Hobart. But they have never hosted an Ashes Test match so we don’t know for sure. Until Hobart hosts an Ashes Test match, we will never know the true interest of Test cricket in Hobart. My three indicators argument also links to the high interest and attendance at Big Bash League matches held in Hobart.
Maybe the overall problem lies in the International Cricket Council? Test cricket started in 1876 which is 13 years after the introduction of association football, the world’s most popular sport.
Yet 139 years later Test cricket is only played by 10 teams. Maybe they are not growing the game globally enough or incorrectly?
Developing new global talent resulting in new competitive international teams and creating new or improved international rivalries could give Test matches a boost.
Test cricket is not dead. There is a pulse, but we need to nurse it back to health.