My three mates and I have been going to the Sydney Test for 20 years, and again enjoyed another commanding Australian performance at the SCG yesterday.
But after a pub feed before heading our separate ways, I was interested to hear the conversation switch for a while to the Big Bash League.
The four of us are all in our forties, married with kids, boys and girls, ranging from toddlers to entering high school.
We’re very much the core demographic for international and especially Test cricket: middle-aged males, decent incomes, fans of the purist form of the game.
But we’re certainly not who the BBL is aimed at. Our wives and kids are very much the target market.
And so as the conversation began, my ears pricked up. To the point that I started scribbling notes.
I was intrigued to know if the guys felt the BBL – and Twenty20 cricket in general – was doing enough to cater for us: template-fitting Test cricket fans.
Here’s what they said.
Ian I’ve known the longest of the three of them, but he was the only one of us who never really played a lot of competitive cricket. But that’s never stopped his enthusiasm for the game.
His view was that he loves the BBL, and especially the fact that it’s on every night. He’s been to games, though none this summer.
He wasn’t entirely sure about the franchise model when the state borders were first broken down, even admitting surprise that into the ninth season of the BBL, there’s been no change in franchise name and especially their locations. But now, he’s quick to acknowledge all eight teams have strong identities, and more importantly, support bases.
It was easy for him to adopt the Sydney Sixers as ‘his’ team, but he’s always had a soft spot for Hobart. But he’s not likely to buy a shirt or cap for either. He likes Brisbane too, and like most cricket fans I’d imagine, he’d happily watch the Heat bat every night when they’re firing.
He likes watching the next level state and young players coming through, but loves what the international players bring to the competition.
He had nothing but disdain for them only a matter of months ago, but has got around Tom Curran this season and much as he did with Jofra Archer last season. Like all of us, he can’t wait to see what AB de Villiers does to Australian attacks.
He’s watched most games this year, on Fox Sports almost exclusively, and had really enjoyed the standard over the years. He’s the first to admit that not every game will be a cracker, but he can always find a good contest that’s worth watching.
Of the four of us, Coops is the only one of us still in the same job, only now he’s really getting toward the pointy end of the pyramid.
Coops and I played the most competitive cricket, plodding around in the lower grades until our heads finally listened to the not-so-subtle signals our bodies were giving out.
His kids are the oldest of our group, and have played a bit of cricket, though not as much as they enter the teenage years.
Coops reckons the longer season has been to the detriment of the competition, and finds it strange that the Sydney derby just after Christmas wasn’t on Channel Seven. Surely that’s how you continue to build the rivalries, just as the Adelaide match on New Year’s Eve has become a known ‘thing’.
This is the first season he and the family hasn’t been to a game, and he doesn’t know why, but can’t see it changing, either.
But he does wonder if the competition has lost some of the personalities of the first few seasons? Where is the 2020 version of Freddie Flintoff on the fielding mic back in the day? And the flow on from that, he wonders, is whether the BBL still has the same sense of fun for the players.
Are they still getting their kicks too, or is everything just geared towards playing well in order to score an IPL contract?
If there’s a ‘cricket nuffie’ of the group, Ralph won’t be surprised to read that the label is being applied to him. He has an encyclopaedic memory of results and performances that go back much further than the rest of us can remember and he’s incredibly smart.
While in England years ago, Ralph worked out that his ticket to Lord’s was not by trying to enter any ballot, but to simply stump up for a Middlesex membership.
His first point stumped me though. The Sixers-Thunder demarcation in Sydney is easy to understand along geographic lines, but wonders what reason cricket fans in Melbourne have to pick the Renegades or Stars?
Ralph worried about the standard; it feels to him like there’s more and more grade players rather than genuine state or first class level players. And that’s apparent in the skills on show, where he finds the fielding often isn’t great, and the bowling isn’t much better.
But he also concedes he would much rather there be seven or eight Tests every summer instead of Twenty20 cricket. It’s easy to watch a BBL game every night, but he’d rather watch a day of Test cricket at any chance.
That said, he can enjoy the contests and can generally find a good game to watch. He likes that the bowling teams have more tactical advantage than they once did in T20 cricket, with all the variation and variety that they now employ.
Ralph reckons that while it feels like batting is becoming more orthodox, citing Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja as the standout bats this year, bowlers have had to utilise every trick available to maintain that tactical advantage.
And this is what has brought more contest to Twenty20 cricket, when for a while there was a genuine fear that the ball might as well be delivered by bowling machine.
I probably find myself in the middle of all of the three of them; I enjoy the competition for what it is more than Coops, but I probably try to look at things a bit deeper than Ian. But not nearly as analytically as Ralph.
But we’re all cricket fans, so it was interesting to see how we individually get what we need out of the BBL to enjoy the cricket as cricket.
We’re certainly not the target audience, but Cricket Australia will need to remain mindful that the competition doesn’t steer itself away from genuine cricket fans while it continues to chase new families and new fans.
And perhaps, that will be the biggest challenge for the BBL in the coming years.