On the first day Australia A played the England Lions in a four day cricket match this year, it was as if social isolation had already begun.
Even the seagulls didn’t turn up. The small crowd arriving at the MCG may well have taken a wrong turn on their way to an afternoon of pub darts. As Jackson Bird ran in to deliver that first ball, the outside traffic was louder than the crowd.
You had to be reading the fine print on social media to know the game was even on. The woman on the one ticket booth open to the public was surprised I was there.
Given the lack of any queue I half expected her to tell me play was abandoned. That the umpires had slept in, quite possibly like the rest of Melbourne.
I’m surprised at how tour matches receive so little publicity and interest. It’s a chance to see teams with a range of playing experience, from aspiring to accomplished.
No doubt the same could be said for Sheffield Shield fixtures. I attended a final many years ago between Victoria and Queensland. With over 7000 people turning up, by domestic competition standards it was a bumper crowd.
The last game I went to I however counted a crowd of 246. (There were probably more hospitality staff).
Yet Sheffield Shield games offer some of what attracts us to Test matches. Over four days it is a longer form of the game, with all the possibilities of changing fortunes less often found in one day and T20 games.
There’s the subtleties of the pitch changing and evolving, the chance to see the brilliance of a Peter Siddle or the potential of a Marcus Harris. But no one shows up.
It seems also tour matches have all but faded away. Last season New Zealand arrived to contest the first Test without a single warm up game. In doing so, they deprived themselves of any opportunity to adapt to our pitches and especially our conditions.
Just to be out in the Australian heat may have prepared them for the temperatures of the first Test. By then Australia was battle hardened, having completed a series against Pakistan. Why did New Zealand not play a single tour match before the first Test?
Was it the pressure of the schedule or were they supremely confident after their home series victory over England?
We’re used to the Cricket Australia XI games against touring teams. They are often comprising up and comers yet to even play a first class match.
(Or if not, a chance to tell the grand kids about that time I made 10 not out against Pakistan). It’s been suggested that utilising these teams rather than state sides deprives touring teams of quality opposition which improves Australia’s chances of a series win. (Unfortunately at the cost of a more hard fought and satisfying series).
In 2010 Andrew Strauss-led England to a triumphant Ashes series victory over Australia. A key to his success was considered to be a thorough schedule of tour matches prior to the first Test, allowing England to settle in and be ready.
As well, a tour match against Victoria was scheduled after the first Test to enable any fine tuning. A rampant England bowled Australia out for 98 in the first innings of the Boxing Day test, demonstrating the benefits of their thorough preparation. Interestingly, few if any teams since then have followed the same rigorous preparation.
Australia’s record at the Gabba would be the envy of many sporting teams. That unbeaten record stretches back to 1988 (losing to the West Indies that year). As wonderful as that record is, it is most likely assisted by teams arriving there under prepared and still finding their feet during the first Test.
In this time of maximising profits, showcasing sponsors and relentless tour schedules, we’ve lost the interesting build towards a Test series that tour matches provide. For many years we’ve stopped attending our Shield competition.
Is a little advertising warranted? Probably unlikely after the reported state of Cricket Australia’s budget. In these times of being time poor and plain tired, perhaps we are too busy to attend state or tour fixtures. And maybe, just maybe, the game – as well as ourselves – are worse for it.