I was sitting up watching the West Indies playing England. Blanket drawn up to my neck on a freezing Melbourne evening, coffee almost as cold as that bed I’d crawl into later.
I was finding it difficult adjusting to the sight of those empty stands at Old Trafford. Seat after unfilled seat. Voices at times emerged from somewhere during the telecast. From the fielders now and then. Perhaps an over excited groundsman calling out. Or maybe it was the buzz of dubbed in voices like the murmuring ghosts of people who once took their place in those rows.
We were after all becoming conditioned to empty stands, having experienced them during the AFL season. Eventually crowd noises were added to our AFL. (Cheering and applause only, no booing allowed).
I’ve seen a comment when it was suggested there wasn’t much difference between the empty seats during the series in England and our own Sheffield Shield games. It was difficult not to smile during the telecast when David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd stood at the back of a stand, providing commentary on his passion for train spotting (reminiscent perhaps of Bill Lawry’s fascination with pigeon racing).
But for me those empty seats were the most profound change in cricket I have witnessed.
Over the years we’ve certainly seen significant change. There’s the reduction of eight balls to six during overs. Shorter boundaries with the installation of ropes. The addition of shorter versions of the game. The width of cricket bats widening. Helmets being worn. Drop in pitches.
Tour/ warm up matches becoming less important. Neutral umpires. Limits per over on the number of short pitched deliveries. Night Test matches. The use of sports psychologists. For a sport so closely linked to tradition, we’ve seen a lot of change.
Only a couple of weeks ago I thought we might be witnessing a particularly significant development. The return of the West Indies to prominence, following their first Test victory in England.
Perhaps they did show enough to suggest their comeback as a real force remains a possibility, although every time before a new series involving them, I never fail to speculate whether their brilliance of the 1980s will finally once again be on show.
As our next season approaches I contemplate the changes we may see. As raised by others on The Roar, how will our domestic season work? Can we expect the players to form hubs? While it’s early days, one can’t help but feel Shield games are unlikely to be scheduled in Melbourne.
Without a domestic season how will our fringe players make a case for being chosen for the Test squad? How else will Marcus Harris put himself back on the selector’s radar? What other way can Wil Pucovski demonstrate he is tracking towards our national team?
Peter Hanscomb will need strong Sheffield Shield performances to restate his claims for the national side. And I think we’d all breathe a little easier if opener Joe Burns had a couple of solid innings under his belt before the first Test.
Let’s also not forget Usman Khawaja, seen by many as no longer part of the future of the national team. If he’s to change that perception, he needs to perform in the domestic competition.
Meanwhile, once Afghanistan and India arrive, they will be likely to isolate. Quite possibly India in particular will bring a large number of players. That will enable intra team matches if the Cricket Australia XI games (or whichever sides would be used) are unavailable.
Even if there is a Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, I doubt we’ll be attending. We’ll instead be sitting in our lounge rooms, appealing and signalling boundaries from the couch. There’ll be no ice cream vendors to shout at or cardboard boxes of limp chips to burn the roofs of our mouths on.
We may find that our Test matches follow a similar arrangement seen in England.
The second and third Test were played at the same venue, Old Trafford. The first Test against Pakistan is also scheduled there. This makes sense although there must be challenges in preparation and maintenance of the ground being used in this way.
During the third Test I saw a ball hit a worn section of the pitch used for the second Test, dangerously rearing up. Using pitches for the Sheffield Shield before a Test no doubt brings similar issues although test matches are a day longer and with two played so close to each other must create problems for the playing surface.
With the second and third Tests against Pakistan at the Rose Bowl it will again be interesting how the ground holds up with those matches scheduled so close together.
New sponsor logos, rule updates and the dropping and promotion of players will always be part of cricket. But I hope the same can’t be said for those endless rows of empty seats and either the dubbed in crowd sounds, or the silence around them.