Cricket’s not dead yet: The hyperbole raging through Australia

Isabelle Westbury Columnist

By Isabelle Westbury, Isabelle Westbury is a Roar Expert

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    In February this year, Hillary Clinton was odds on for a clean run to the White House, Brexit was the name of a breakfast cereal and Leicester’s claim to fame remained a long-deceased monarch buried under a few rusting Ford Fiestas.

    Australia, the dominant force in global cricket for the past couple of decades, had also just reclaimed the number one Test spot. Normal service hadn’t resumed – it had hardly faltered.

    They say a sudden change in wind direction can cause a wildfire to rage in a manner so unexpected any future modelling becomes obsolete. For the year 2016, the transition has not so much been sudden as a persistent series of events so seemingly implausible it is now a disappointment when the unexpected does not occur. Future forecasting is indeed irrelevant. We live in an age of uncertainty. This much, Australian Test cricketers now know.

    Last winter, Australia were considered such a superior red-ball outfit that the nation was lamenting the allocation of the Boxing Day Test fixture to that of an ailing West Indies side. South Africa have not featured in this showpiece event since 2008, New Zealand have been waiting for 30 years. Surely such opposition would provide a sterner test for the boys in baggy greens?

    The Big Bash League, then in its fifth season and an exponential success, became a welcome distraction from the predictable series victory over the West Indies. The sigh of relief was almost audible from Cricket Australia’s offices – the BBL had salvaged cricket’s status as the nation’s number one summer pastime. Fast forward 12 months, and this tournament is being blamed for cricket’s downfall – the Diet Coke of the sport, detracting from the serious stuff.

    ‘Funny,’ remarked the sports broadcaster Alison Mitchell on Twitter. ‘How English cricket is striving to emulate Australia’s BBL success just as Australia pick an opener who aspires to bat like [Alastair] Cook.’

    Matt Renshaw, the English-born Queensland opener, selected as one of six possible changes and three debutants for the third Test against South Africa in Adelaide, is part of the latest solution sought by Australia’s selectors. Renshaw bats in a manner that is indeed akin to Cook or, to find a more contemporaneous comparison, Haseeb Hameed, England’s new teenage Geoffrey Boycott, take out of cryogenic hibernation from the 1930s when timeless Tests were still a thing.

    England’s Test team, despite their current struggles on the sub-continent, have performed reasonably well in recent years, more consistently at least than in bygone eras.

    The difference between the ECB and Cricket Australia however, is that when the former’s chief executive harks on about the primacy of Test cricket, the ECB can claim demonstrable evidence to support its assertions.

    Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and chairman Wally Edwards

    First-class cricket in England is – relatively – thriving. For better or for worse, administrative power lies with the 18 counties, whose membership is largely fond of the longer format.

    A healthy second-11 competition props up a County Championship which saw the season finale between Middlesex and Yorkshire attract the highest attendance for a Championship game at Lord’s since May 1966.

    21,595 came through the turnstiles over the match’s four-day duration, numbers which the Sheffield Shield might dream of for an entire season, every state combined. The BBC for its part, continues to provide commentary on “every ball of every first-class county match”, a service its Australian counterpart, the ABC, long since shelved.

    Yet even with this rose-tinted view of England’s long-form game, Mitchell’s tweet rings true – restlessness abounds.

    18 counties to Australia’s six states fuels arguments of a diluted domestic competition. A widening gap between the quality of first and second division cricket lays the foundation of a them-and-us culture. Grassroots uptake of the sport has been declining for years.

    Free-to-air television coverage is non-existent – you’re more likely to catch a game of American football on the box than our national sport. At the forefront of the disquiet is the failure of England’s T20 competition to capture the public’s imagination, or that of the broadcasters. There is much to like about the domestic set-up in England, but equally enough to dislike too.

    It is a welcome respite from today’s real world consternations to be able to indulge in a spot of schadenfreude by observing Australian cricket’s apparent state of disarray. The bark and bluster is at levels only the romanticism of sport can inspire.

    That there is a huge faff over Faf’s sweet-chewing habits, ill-advised though they may have been, only adds to the spectacle. Where elaborate moaning and a vicious critique of one’s own national team was once the preserve of the English, it’s a relief to think that we do not suffer alone.

    There are issues within Cricket Australia’s framework, and evidently an imbalance has been created between long- and short-form cricket, between preserving tradition and attracting new consumers (and money). It may too be time to draw to a close the experiment of a Futures League over a genuine second 11 state competition.

    Perhaps have a tinker with the scheduling of the BBL and Tests too.

    Yet record numbers of grassroots participants, an unrivalled club structure which caters for the career amateur as well as it does the out-of-form international, and a domestic competition (albeit in short-form) that can fill the MCG, are but a few enviable distinctions Australia’s cricket following would be loath to dismiss.

    We’re told that Australian cricket is in the grips of a Warner-esque disease – all bish, bash, bosh but little stick and grind. Yet Warner himself mustered a double century against the touring Black Caps just last year. Soon after Adam Voges achieved the same across the water in far less obliging conditions. Just 18 months ago Steve Smith and Chris Rogers put on a partnership of 284 together at Lord’s. Renshaw could well prove to be the next generation of this mould.

    Australia’s cricketers are weathering a rough patch, deeper than any they’ll have experienced. The biggest culprits of a hit-and-run style mentality, however, are arguably the selectors themselves.

    Until recently, apparently immune to their own mortality, the selectors’ revolving-door player-selection method has only added to the carnage. In Smith Australia have a captain of rare talent, temperament and tenacity, and enough in the players that surround him to ultimately triumph.

    Turn down the hyperbole, and let cooler heads prevail, for Australia’s current predicament is not the end of the world. President Trump might be, but not this.

    Isabelle Westbury
    Isabelle Westbury

    Isabelle Westbury once got a duck in an ODI and since then has found a more fruitful career penning columns than hitting runs. She does, however, captain English County side Middlesex, albeit from the lower order. Follow her on Twitter here.

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    The Crowd Says (35)

    • November 24th 2016 @ 9:38am
      Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      Personally I don’t believe the majority of young Australians see the demise of our Test Cricket team as the end of the world at all.
      The nation has evolved and are in fact a symbiosis of this fact.
      The majority of Australians have been turning their backs on the game for years now which has had little to do with their performance and all to do with consumers engagement or lack thereof.
      Test Crickets struggle here is a metaphor for the cultural evolution that continues to take place not only here but across a global world where technology has rendered us all more homogenised, pushing the dated to the fringes, i.e. Test Cricket.
      I reckon Test Crickets days are numbered for better or for worse and that includes England where clearly population will ensure the truncated version of the game is sustained beyond what we can expect in Oz.
      It may experience a resurgence of sorts, as a bespoke sport, who’s to say but we do not mourn its slow death here truth be told.

    • November 24th 2016 @ 9:41am
      Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 9:41am | ! Report

      Personally I don’t believe the majority of young Australians see the demise of our Test Cricket team as the end of the world at all.
      The nation has evolved and are in fact a symbiosis of this fact.
      The majority of Australians have been turning their backs on the game for years now which has little to do with performance and all to do with engagement.
      Test Crickets struggle here is a metaphor for the cultural evolution that continues to take place not only here but across a global world where technology has rendered us all more homogenised, pushing the dated to the fringes, i.e. Test Cricket.
      I reckon Test Crickets days are numbered for better or for worse and that includes England where clearly population will ensure the truncated version of the game is sustained beyond what we can expect in Oz.
      It may experience a resurgence of sorts, as a bespoke sport, who’s to say but we do not mourn its slow death here truth be told.

      • November 24th 2016 @ 11:58am
        matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:58am | ! Report

        And yet here you are on the cricket page of a sporting website.

        Come out to any cricket ground on any weekend and see the numbers of participants of all ages and all cultural backgrounds. Try to find a net to practice in on the weekend that isn’t already occupied. See the ratings for the Big Bash, or more importantly the web clicks on the CA and cricinfo websites.

        Cricket isn’t broken, far from it. It’s just that the national team is a little bit shite right now and to certain people this indicates that the sky is falling.

      • November 24th 2016 @ 12:09pm
        matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        And yet here you are on the cricket page of a sporting website.

        Come out to any cricket ground on any weekend and see the numbers of participants of all ages and all cultural backgrounds. Try to find a net to practice in on the weekend that isn’t already occupied. See the ratings for the Big Bash, or more importantly the web clicks on the CA and cricinfo websites.

        Cricket isn’t broken, far from it. It’s just that the national team is a little bit awful right now and to certain people this indicates that the sky is falling.

    • November 24th 2016 @ 9:49am
      madmonk said | November 24th 2016 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      Good read Isabelle. Particularly interested with your reference to county membership.

      My suspicion is beyond the BBL there remains a large contingent Australian cricket supporters who also put the long form game at the apex. Many of us do or did play grade cricket in Australia which in its 80 or 100 over per day 2 day format was historically the foundation of Australian cricket.

      We watch all forms of cricket and don’t watch every ball of every test, but we also buy tickets to the test each year, we track shield scores and remember test results. We grew up on battles with the Windies and the Ashes and later South Africa.

      The gap you have identified for me is the disconnect between Australia’s cricket governance structures and this core contingency.

      In the UK this cricket core are county members and their influence is real.

      • Columnist

        November 24th 2016 @ 10:09am
        Isabelle Westbury said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        Agreed. It’s all a balance, and I agree CA have got a fair few things wrong, but also a lot right.

        The county members are a blessing and a curse to English cricket – spot on in retaining the importance of longer form cricket but their demographic is an ageing one and very narrow too; where CA have perhaps gone too far in favour of T20, England’s domestic set up arguably not enough. All swings and roundabouts. Can’t have it all, although India making a good fist of it at the moment.

        • November 24th 2016 @ 10:21am
          Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          ……..concur Isabelle.
          I respect that about English culture, their sense of tradition against all odds.
          Australians don’t place much value, as a rule, on the more historically virtuous aspects of sport or anything for that matter.
          We are a nation of consumers rather than spectators sadly.

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2016 @ 11:11am
            Rellum said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:11am | ! Report

            Cricket people here when I grew up were taught to be very aware of the History of the game and to be proud of that massive History. We were not consumers then, that is only a recent phenomenon.

            To me that is a big failing form the last generation or two, we did not pass on the traditions and history of the game well enough. Every one was blind sided by the digital revolution and the old ways of passing the game on disappeared and we did not adapt.

            • November 24th 2016 @ 12:00pm
              matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

              Yet we still get decent crowds, decent ratings, decent participation and decent web clicks, so the world is not ending. We are also at the lower levels finally starting to see the rise of multiculturalism in cricket. and also finally seeing a viable professional women’s league.

              • November 24th 2016 @ 12:06pm
                Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

                …….glass half full spin but worth considering.

              • Roar Guru

                November 24th 2016 @ 1:10pm
                Rellum said | November 24th 2016 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

                How are those crowds and TV audiences doing, getting bigger or smaller?

            • November 24th 2016 @ 12:05pm
              Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

              ……indeed, it is a devolution of society in my opinion and certainly NOT exclusive to Cricket.

        • November 24th 2016 @ 11:48am
          madmonk said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:48am | ! Report

          Yes Isabelle for decades we bagged county cricket for having a 16 team competition and playing 3 day games. That was seen here as prioritising county cricket over test cricket.

          Not sure India have it all. Their relationship with Test cricket is sometimes curious.

    • Roar Guru

      November 24th 2016 @ 10:03am
      sheek said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:03am | ! Report

      Fortunately, I am not part of any populist bandwagon. I try to assess any situation on its own merits.

      That said, I’m a traditionalist. I still prefer test cricket & I still prefer the rich history of the game & its teams.

      I also prefer stadiums retaining their original name & not changing at the whim of the latest sponsor.

      Australian cricket is in a pickle because its administrators thought they could ignore Sheffield Shield (first class cricket) & still produce a competitive test team.

      It doesn’t work like that. Test cricket & Sheffield Shield go hand in hand. Like, Bogey & Bacall; Sonny & Cher; a horse & carriage; love & marriage.

      I’m amazed to think CA was so naive as to think they could cut corners with their domestic structure in the pursuit of massive profit margins, & get away with it.

      In business, it is argued that if you get your structures & procedures right, the profits will take care of themselves.

      People & organisations who put profit first without the necessary structures & procedures in place, are usually headed for trouble.

      CA has been warned. It remains to be seen if they’ve learnt any lessons.

      • November 24th 2016 @ 10:17am
        Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        ……I am of your persuasion as well I reckon sheek but probably a smidgeon more ironic & provocative in the way express my sense of loss in this respect.
        We are as with Test Cricket, a dying breed it seems…….

      • November 24th 2016 @ 12:02pm
        matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:02pm | ! Report

        I think CA knew this and have accepted the risk of lowering test match standards as a pay off to the lure of Big Bash success

    • Roar Guru

      November 24th 2016 @ 10:52am
      Paul D said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      What sort of tinkering with the schedule of BBL/Tests would you propose? I think the BBL is great. Starts/ends with the school holidays, and if test match devotees bemoan the fact it overshadows test matches, well that’s too bad. Make the test matches more appealing and convenient to watch and more people will come.

      I think day/night test cricket is great, and I think a proposed move to 4 day tests – Thursday to Sunday – would be great as well. Test cricket isn’t dead anyway, it just lacks context and has been steadily cheapened through years of irrelevant fixturing.

      • Roar Guru

        November 24th 2016 @ 11:06am
        Rellum said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        and if test match devotees bemoan the fact it overshadows test matches, well that’s too bad. Make the test matches more appealing and convenient to watch and more people will come.

        This is not aimed at you Paul but this is the problem with how CA has managed T20 and FC/Test cricket. It fosters an us against them attitude from the new BBL fans and the traditional custodians of the game. T20 cricket does not bring in new Test cricket fans, why would it. CA has told them that T20 cricket is the exciting version of the game, so by definition that means to them long form cricket has to be boring, right?

        You are right Paul, Test cricket does lack context. Shield cricket died off in the public’s mind once they once they started mucking around with the context. Test cricket will go the same way os the Shield unless some real effort is made to give it context. Give the game coloured clothes, fire works and street dancers if you need to make it easy for the marketing department.

        AS for county cricket, ll the elements are there to make it a successful T20 league, the marketing people just need to use the current names and colours, not just revert to the standard playbook of changing everything so they can control all the marketing. Do that and you keep your base which will sustain the comp in the long run and bring in new fans. That is the mistake CA made, it didn’t really bring along the traditional fans in chasing new ones.

      • Roar Guru

        November 24th 2016 @ 11:09am
        sheek said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        A lot of people seem to miss the bleeding obvious.

        To play test cricket well, players must be grounded firstly in grade cricket, then first class cricket (Sheffield Shield).

        You can’t cut corners here. If CA ignores SS, then players will lose the skills necessary for test cricket. The standard will slip & fans will lose interest. It may already be happening this way.

        Furthermore, players can’t prepare for test cricket, or find form, or break into the test team, by only playing BBL. That’s nonsense.

        By all means have BBL, but either BBL or test cricket is going to have to be moved to another time-slot in the season. They are mutually exclusive formats.

        • Roar Guru

          November 24th 2016 @ 11:22am
          Paul D said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:22am | ! Report

          Rellum, I know you’ve regularly bemoaned that no-one watches shield and matador cup games anymore, and Sheek usually refers to BBL by various disparaging monikers.

          For starters, I’m not proposing a quick cosmetic fix to test cricket. So put a hold on the fireworks and cheerleaders. In my view, test cricket needs to be packaged and sold as a prestige form of the game – I think for that it needs to have challenging pitches, and revert the balance back towards the bowlers. If it’s just a really long 20/20 game with batsmen dominating on roads then people rightfully will turn their backs and go watch the BBL.

          Test cricket needs to have its own identity, and pick specialist players in the test team too. Apart from 3-4 supremely talented individuals who pick themselves I think the test team should be comprised predominantly of specialist bats and bowlers for the format.

          Sheek, where did I say players don’t need a grounding in grade and first class cricket to play test matches? I have never said that. Likewise with saying all you need is BBL to prepare for a test match, I didn’t say that and do not hold that belief either.

          And if you are going to move one of the formats, I can tell you right now they’re not shifting the BBL from the school holidays.

          Also, I think you’re both wrong in saying T20 does not bring in new fans to test cricket – for starters it’s far too early to make that claim. Most of the kids who grew up watching BBL would still be in school. I think any interest in cricket regardless of format is good interest. As people grow older they may well crave a longer, more nuanced form of the game and test cricket stands ready to fill that niche.

          • November 24th 2016 @ 12:05pm
            matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:05pm | ! Report

            My son goes to BBL games every year, but also goes to the test match and watches the tests on TV. He then goes out and plays for his school and club, where he is a classic test match batsman (i.e. very, very slow). I guess some kids have the brains to appreciate both forms as well.

            • Roar Guru

              November 24th 2016 @ 1:02pm
              Rellum said | November 24th 2016 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

              How much does your influence play on his desire to follow both?

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2016 @ 1:09pm
            Rellum said | November 24th 2016 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            I don’t actually bemoan than people don’t watch the Shield. I don’t expect big crowds at the Shield although it would nice if CA and Queensland Cricket advertised based on sessions. Try and get cricket fans and players to show up to one session a season.

            I bemoan that the comp is no longer a serious comp that the States have autonomy to peruse. And I bemoan that people do not care about if their States are winning or not. That does not breed a winning culture for the national team.

            On whether kds will grow into Test cricket. Yes we do not know how that will play out but I use the analogy of music. Kids never really get into the parents music, they see it as old. T20 has come at a time where there is a generational group of kids who will see it as the new and long form cricket as the old. Not many kids get into the oldies music. I hope I am wrong.

            • Roar Guru

              November 24th 2016 @ 2:14pm
              Paul D said | November 24th 2016 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

              I agree with you on the tinkering with the shield, what happened in that game where NSW were allowed to sub Starc out and bring a fresh Bollinger in to destroy QLD in the 2nd innings was a farce.

              That sort of sports science where shield games become glorified training/fitness proving sessions is rubbish, and shouldn’t be allowed. Either that or offer it to all sides, not just ones who happen to have a national rep trying to prove his fitness.

              I get what you’re saying with the music analogy, but music doesn’t just have 3 music groups to listen to. It’s not like it’s a choice between Beethoven, Beatles and Beyoncé. Hence why I maintain ANY interest is good interest.

          • Roar Guru

            November 24th 2016 @ 1:23pm
            sheek said | November 24th 2016 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

            Paul D,

            My response was a general one to you rather than a specific one.

            BBL may well win the December-January time slot over test cricket. I seriously doubt CA can match its rhetoric with intent when it talks about preserving test cricket. They’re full of bull dust.

            I also believe day/night cricket is the future & possible saviour of both test cricket & SS.

            But it’s probably a mute point. Like I said above, I seriously doubt if CA can match its rhetoric with intent.

            • Roar Guru

              November 24th 2016 @ 2:16pm
              Paul D said | November 24th 2016 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

              I see test matches as a combination of day/night tests in every major city with the exception of MCG and SCG which will remain boutique daytime contests, sitting as they are right in the peak holiday season.

              I don’t think CA can afford to put all its eggs in the BBL basket. I see a future of growing divergence. There is still plenty of appetite for a premium long-form contest, if they can make it relevant, important and give it context. But a lot of those issues are out of the hands of CA and depend on international cooperation.

        • November 24th 2016 @ 11:45am
          madmonk said | November 24th 2016 @ 11:45am | ! Report

          What’s interesting Sheek is that the BBL and player collective bargaining now means shield cricketers now earn decent money. 30 years ago this didn’t happen.

          Test players don’t play shield anymore but with the money the good pros should be staying in the game a lot longer than in the previous generation. There is therefore no reason why the standard of the shield cricket should have declined but the consensus view is that it has.

          What is promising is that the gap now appears to simply be a lack of CA focus on the longer forms. Hopefully the recent focus on test cricket performance will result in renewed focus on shield cricket.

          An aside, it is interesting that the run of bad performances is listed as 10 games which includes the 5 odi’s in SA. What’s interesting is that CA left Starc and Hazlewood at home and in so doing were clearly prioritised test results over odi cricket.

          It would be great if CA just chose not to play irrelevant out of season odi’s and T20’s but presumably there is a quid pro quo with other countries to play these.

        • November 24th 2016 @ 12:09pm
          Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

          …….the truncated versions of the game are, for all intents and purpose, different games that require different skillets, especially at the extreme poles, i.e. Test and T20.

    • November 24th 2016 @ 10:56am
      Steve said | November 24th 2016 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      I’ve always wondered why the success of a national team is linked to a sports popularity in Australia. I lived in Thailand for most of my childhood, the fact that national team were horrible didn’t affect people’s love of football.

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • November 24th 2016 @ 12:08pm
        matth said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

        It’s because, unlike the football codes, the national cricket team has been the main focus for fan engagement. In the football codes you bleed with your club for the season and the internationals are one-off specials. In cricket, you bleed with the national team and don’t follow the club or state level teams as much. It’s similar to the Wallabies in Rugby. Therefore the whole health of the sport is tied to the fortunes of the national team more than other sports.

        This may start changing as young kids grow up supporting their Big Bash franchise.

      • November 24th 2016 @ 12:11pm
        Republican said | November 24th 2016 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        ………I believe this is changing with multiculturalism.
        It is the old Anglo Saxon guard that continue to derive national identity through sport & war exploits in this country – sadly.

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