Monday, 8 February 2010

Over and Over and Over

Interesting article by Peter Roebuck in The Age today about declining interest in One Day cricket, as demonstrated by yesterday’s 25,463 crowd at the MCG for the first knock between Australia and the West Indies. It’s likely the biggest factor for the low(ish) crowd was the 60,000+ who watched the Twenty 20 match at the MCG between Australia and Pakistan just two days earlier. Still as Roebuck notes, all the sporting factors were there yesterday for a good day out, but people - me included - voted with their feet.

This is not news; Roebuck’s piece is another in a long line of similar articles about the inevitable death of the 50-over game in favour of 20/20 cricket. He offers a few suggestions to refresh the format created by Kerry Packer et al in the 1970s but there is another bigger issue that he doesn’t mention: people like to see Australia lose.

Obviously I like to see the Australian cricket team lose – for me it’s akin to finding a dancing penguin in my fridge with a surprise cheese platter - but let me share a secret: I’m not alone. Aside from the many Kiwis, Indians and Sri Lankans who call Australia home, there are a great many cricket-loving natal Australians who like nothing better than to see Ricky Ponting with a grumpy face and the Aussies put to the sword.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from the all-conquering all-sledging-’bowled-Shaiiiine’-years of unfettered arrogance; maybe a reaction to the mindless Oi! Oi! Oi! support of the flag-waving-Southern-Cross-tattooed hoards, or maybe just Schumacher Syndrome - acute ennui caused by year after year of watching the same smug fuckers win. Whatever their reasons, each summer we all join forces like an unofficial and covert branch of the United Nations called People Who Hate the Baggy Green and cheer for whoever is playing Australia.

Whilst we approach each summer with a weary understanding that Australia will ultimately triumph, we are occasionally treated to scenes of unexpected delirium. Back-to-back visits by India and South Africa in recent summers were exquisite and even England’s 5-0 whitewash loss in the Ashes was unexpectedly followed by a bizarre yet welcome ODI Tri-Series win which left Ponting speechless.

Sadly this summer we have been sorely underprovided for. We’ve seen a decent but by-no-means brilliant Australian team win a test series 2-0 against the Windies before winning three tests, five ODIs and a 20/20 game against a Pakistan team who in the space of one month have choked more times than a British tennis player. The memory of five almost-perfect days in Adelaide in early December has been obliterated by a woeful Pakistan who haven’t recovered from the moment they allowed Michael Hussey to save the Sydney test.

Despite the media hype before every game, it’s inevitable that two and a half months of Australian dominance would result in reluctance to fork out money to watch more of the same. The ranks of the People Who Hate the Baggy Green have been artificially swelled by temporary members keen for a bit of competition before summer is out.

I still think talk of the death of ODI is a bit premature. Despite what the media likes to tell us, many of us haven’t embraced Twenty 20 as a natural replacement. I’d also suggest that 25,000 paying spectators is better than the tiers of empty seats in a 100,000+ seater stadium makes it look. Further, instead of silly ideas like giving 8 runs for a 6 to make the 50-over game more exciting, I believe this summer might have been more interesting had the two ODI series been played as a Tri-Series. As we saw with the England–NZ-Australia competition in 2007, even a team which has been resoundingly thrashed by Australia can recover confidence if given the opportunity to do so.

It could be that Cricket Australia doesn’t want that to happen. They may be so bloody minded that they want their team to win at any cost, even if it means the death of the one-day game. However one thing is increasingly clear: the Australian public - wherever we come from, whoever we barrack for - does not.

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