As hard as they try, cricket administrators can’t paper over the cracks anymore. Test cricket is waning in popularity.
While several nations struggle to remain competitive, fans are getting sick of the highways masquerading as cricket pitches.
And it isn’t just an issue in Australia.
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Even in cricket-mad India, Test crowds are down significantly. They don’t sell out grounds anymore, with a good crowd being one that’s 60-70 per cent full.
Only in England, who play at small grounds, are Test venues consistently packed.
In Australia, maybe we’ve been distracted from the plight of Test cricket by the near-constant presence of England and India in recent years.
But this slow summer has shone the blowtorch on the game’s future.
New Zealand didn’t live up to expectations and the visit of the West Indies is bordering on farcical.
They don’t want to be in Australia – and don’t care.
How else do you explain their pitiful attitude in the Hobart series opener?
Paceman Jerome Taylor – who bowled so well in home conditions against the Aussies in June – was almost hit in the field during a recent tour match against a Victorian XI, when he was leaning over the fence, not looking at proceedings.
What would have been a simple waist-high catch nearly turned into a missile as Taylor was yelled at by his team-mates, and although he avoided the ball, the message the near-miss sent was louder than anything else generated by the two-day match.
As a result of the poor opposition this summer, ratings and interest for the Big Bash League are through the roof – further raising doubts about the status of Test cricket.
But while the future of the game’s longest form is under the spotlight, is this the summer we had to have? Could it be the catalyst for change?
Much of the discussion about Test cricket’s future has been healthy.
Previously, suggestions to tinker Tests have been shot down in flames. Now they’re being contemplated – often out loud – by ex-players and administrative bodies. And that’s good for the game.
The proposals are many and varied, ranging from more day-night matches, to four-day clashes running on a Thursday to Sunday model, to scrapping the coin toss and a two-tiered system of nations.
All of them would radically change the future of Test cricket. But that isn’t so bad.
Yes, traditionalists won’t like them, but the time is now. Test cricket needs to change.
In its current state of flux, crowds are dropping like flies as competitions like the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash thrive.
It remains to be seen, but if international Twenty20 cricket can stumble on that winning formula too, we’re likely to see fewer Tests scheduled.
And is that what we want? Test cricket to be slowly phased out, played as a token gesture, and perhaps not the main event of the summer?
It seems inconceivable – but so did sell-out crowds and ratings of over one million a night for Twenty20 matches between domestic, city-based franchises a few years ago.
Cricket Australia dipped its toes in the waters of change with the inaugural day-night Test at the Adelaide Oval.
It was, of course, a raging success, and will be the highlight of the summer.
More bold moves are needed.