Australian cricket public miss the old enemy

RICHARD HINDS
Last updated 10:20 21/12/2012

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Snook: Taranaki's man from Gore a class act Reason: Man mountain Matfield still one of best Mehrtens: Beware of Boks as World Cup looms McCaw up off floor and to the fore once again Napier: A test a long time in the making Kemp: Surprise Benji Marshall not in mix Wilson: Boks picked on merit, not quotas Snook: Give Barrett a chance or risk losing him Reason: Tennis is just a game: Let Nishikori live Mehrtens: Refs a blight on international game

OPINION: The Big Bash League, we were promised, would save traditional cricket. But in the relatively early stages of a season where viewing figures and attendances for BBL matches have declined, you might ask what is going to save the BBL.

Even louder music? Stumps that not only light up, but fly out of the ground like rockets? More dancing bears? A ban on yorkers and the mandatory revelation by spinners about which ball they are going to bowl next - to the batsman, not just the viewing audience.

Traditionalists should not yet dance - a very restrained ceremonial waltz, none of that hip-gyrating Twenty20 stuff - on the grave of the very-limited overs game. The numbers revealing a decline in interest in the BBL do not necessarily point to its demise, or suggest there is an unrequited demand by youngsters for more orthodox front-foot defence.

BBL audiences on Fox Sports last year were greatly boosted by the reappearance of Shane Warne, and the first-season novelty factor. Upon receiving those results, Fox executives did almost as many handstands as the BBL dancing girls. In that context, 237,000 viewers per game - a 29 per cent decline on this time last season - remains a healthy result for the pay-per-view provider. Especially given that, this time, no one really believes Warne is honing his deliveries for a Test comeback.

Meanwhile, the perception of poor crowds this season has been enhanced by the sight of thousands of empty seats at Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades games, particularly. Beside being the ''other'' teams in their cities, both have large stadiums to fill. Particularly the Thunder at cavernous ANZ Stadium. So a high ball, like a bomb at a poorly attended NRL match, was always going to reveal unpopulated decks.

The trend may be down. But, for a domestic league deprived of talented players because of the unfortunate scheduling conflict - particularly the bombastic David Warner - the results are still robust. As robust as you could expect for a competition that glorifies the slog, yet, on Wednesday night, disallowed an Aaron Finch six because it hit a roof beam at Etihad Stadium, which is beyond the boundary. Duckworth-Lewis is easier to work out than that.

The greater problem for Australian cricket is the BBL figures reflect a downturn in interest in the game as a whole this summer. Poor Test crowds in Hobart are not unusual. But there is a feeling many will attend the Boxing Day and New Years Tests this year more out of habit than expectation.

An obvious factor is the departure of the South Africans after what should have been the middle, rather than the end, of an engaging series. In profile, the limited-overs oriented Sri Lankans were always going to be a hard sell. Even after providing unexpectedly stubborn opposition in Hobart.

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But Cricket Australia would be foolish to ignore the lacklustre feeling that has pervaded this season. Particularly the cunning manner in which the various football codes are consuming the media space and, consequently, the attention of fans that was once devoted mostly to cricket.

Relief is at hand. Not from another bit of bash and thrash, but from the most traditional source of cricketing friction.

The idea of back-to-back Ashes series, brought about by a realignment in the international cricket calendar, had once seemed excessive. Now, 10 consecutive Test matches away, and then home, against the old enemy will have authorities in both countries rubbing their hands together.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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