On Sunday 8 March 2020, I was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with 86,173 other people to watch the Australian Women’s Cricket team beat the Indian Women’s Cricket Team by 85 runs in the final of the ICC T20 Women’s World Cup.
Regardless of the current turmoil that has engulfed the short-term future of Australian cricket, there remains the inevitable picture that will supposedly set the sport back on course.
What picture? It’s the customary and somewhat forced handshake and smiles being worn by Messrs Sutherland and Nicholson after a deal has finally been thrashed out, restoring Australian cricket’s status quo.
The players will return to living out their dream [sic], while the folk in Jolimont headquarters will keep close their digital abaci in anticipation of fresh new rewards.
Yet left in the shade, as always, are the game’s patrons – its fans, or for corporate speak, its customers. You know the ones: those lame ducks that come back year after year keeping the coffers full, while one side cries poor among its wealth and the other steadfastly poses as an Ebenezer Scrooge body collective.
Leaving aside the merits, morals and melodrama of both Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricket Association, the public spectacle of witnessing Australian cricket besmirching its venerable history is likely to leave it without a firm fanbase.
I’m not talking about the Twenty20 crowd – cricket’s history goes well before 2005 – but about those who would spend a full day, or even full days, at a cricket ground investing their dream and passion in a team they could be truly proud of.
Those days could be ending given that off-field stoushes dominate Australian cricket’s agenda, not how to best England this Antipodean summer.
Youth may have played a part towards my ignorance at the time, but when a pay dispute last threatened to engulf Australian cricket in 1997-98, it was done to ensure the players could enjoy a fully professional existence out of the game. Twenty years before that, Kerry Packer’s troupe acted to mitigate any player from living below the poverty line.
The pay game is different this time. No player who is currently ‘unemployed’ lives without a healthy disposable income, courtesy of the numerous Twenty20 leagues that now dominate the sport. To that end, never have Australia’s best cricketers needed their governing body less.
Yet with another bumper TV deal on the horizon, even with the noted struggles of Channel Ten, Cricket Australia will feel they can play hardball with its players, especially when the TV deal does not necessarily infer quality of content. Whether it’s Australia’s best 11 cricketers or a pub team that lines up at the Gabba on 23 November, Cricket Australia will laugh its way to the bank.
At best, the Australian public will pour scorn upon the motives across all sides of this seemingly endless feud. At worst, they just may not care.
If there is a positive to be gleaned, it is that all facades have now been shed away to reveal the unlikeable agenda of Australian cricket. On one hand, Cricket Australia’s agenda is about pinching pennies ahead of a bumper TV deal; on the other, the players unite to claim what is rightfully theirs, on morals more than need.
So when the inevitable occurs and Messrs Sutherland and Nicholson work out a mutually beneficial way of keeping their money, the Australian public may well choose to keep theirs too and turn away for good.