Test match cricket: A dying format of the game?


Over the past decade, the popularity of test match cricket has significantly declined. Cricket fans are not coming out in the numbers they used to, clearly the excitement of the game has faded.

If you look back a decade or two, you would be inspired by players like Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and the list goes on. Look back further and you get the likes of Ian Healy, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and the great Donald Bradman just to name a few. These are players that kids of this generation idolised. These players brought charisma and personality to a long game, the kind of charm you don’t see in this modern era.

It has presented a challenge to attain high attendance crowds over a five-day match where it is common to have a much higher attendance on the opening day or two but the number significantly drops over the final three days. 

Day one of the Boxing Day test at the MCG is always the highlight of the summer with crowds of over 60,000 heading to the ‘G’ in 2016. 2017 saw over 88,000 cricket fans show their support except that quite a large amount of fans left the stadium scarce during tea break whilst captain Steve Smith was on his way to yet another century, clearly the session ran dryer than usual and patrons decided to call it a day. The following two days held over 60,000 patrons each which was a positive outcome but it really was the peak of the summer. 

The main point of concern are the inconsistencies between crowd numbers in each state. In 2017, the WACA hosted numbers over 20,000 people, overfilling capacity which was a great sign for sport in WA, yet the final day of the final test in Sydney when the Australian team were regaining the Ashes, the SCG only filled 36% of its capacity. Named as the ‘pink’ test- raising money and awareness for breast cancer with the McGrath Foundation- the SCG usually sparks solid crowd numbers but there is still the challenge of maintaining the amount of people attending over more than one day.

Some days however, figures could get worrying. In 2016 at the Gabba in Queensland, day four only had 4,890 people seated and day five only attracted 2,593 which makes up a whole six percent of the stadium.  

Adelaide’s introduction of the day/night match was a success. On day one 55,317 people walked through the gates of Adelaide Oval, maximizing capacity of the stadium as cricket lovers could flock to the oval after work for night sessions. These hours seemed to work because they maintained a strong crowd presence over all five days. Maybe that could be a potential change to the matches played in other states to increase the attendance of each match. 

Not only is long form cricket in strife because of crowd attraction but with the introduction of the Big Bash League (BBL), kids and upcoming cricketers aren’t aspiring to test cricket, they are learning how to quickly score by hitting sixes and building up strength and power to be a successful T20 player. 

BBL matches are attracting higher crowd numbers because of the quick nature of the game. The T20 format doesn’t last longer than three hours and it’s fun for the whole family. They have taken a similar approach to the entertainment factor that the NBA have in the States. Dancers and cheerleaders make appearances and the crowd gets involved with competitions and fun segments like the dance and kiss cam. 

The game is at a faster pace, more sixes are hit and more wickets are taken in an entertaining fashion, this format of the game makes it more exciting for everybody to watch.

With over a million people attending BBL matches over the past two summers, it is clearly a positive direction that Cricket Australia has taken to reinvent cricket. It was the only way to keep the next generation interested and eager to take part in local cricket from young ages rather than choosing sports like AFL, soccer or rugby. 

BBL cricket has also provided more opportunities for young players working their way through the system. The Australian cricket team has one test match team which consists of 11 players and majority of those 11 players will stay on the list for years, meaning that hundreds of players miss their chance to play for the one team that represents the great Australian sport.

The addition of BBL however means that there are eight more teams to play for within the country. Each team typically have an 18-man squad, with 11 being selected but there are still 144 positions being created across those eight teams in the league.

Apart from attendance, the Australian cricket team itself haven’t shown signs of inspiration for the next generation, especially over the current series taking place in South Africa. Labelled as the ‘gentlemen’s’ game and having a common spirit of cricket within the global sporting community, cricket has always been a sport of patience, integrity and playing with intensity and aggression but in a respectful manner. The Australian team seem to have forgotten what their ‘baggy green’ hats stand for because their attitudes and actions have not reflected any of that.

When it came out that captain Steve Smith, vice captain David Warner and supposedly the rest of the leadership team had pre-intended ball tampering, there was a huge sense of shock and disappointment among any sport lover in the country. Yes, ball tampering has taken place before and consequences have been dealt however, it’s not something that happens within our country. A team that had always taken pride in the spirit of cricket had let the public down. 

To then have the youngest player on the team carry out the duty on the field was another matter all together. Smith and Warner knew exactly how this plan they concocted would play out so to put another young players’ career in jeopardy for something that they would never have done themselves knowing there were cameras on them is disgraceful. Although, Cameron Bancroft is a 25-year-old man who can stand for his own decisions and could’ve chosen to not go ahead with the cheating plan, what could you say when the captain and vice captain of Australia come up to you asking for a small favour or however the situation panned out.

Cricket Australia’s CEO James Sutherland discussed how the actions of the top cricketers in the country impacts local cricketers. 

“What we are all about as an organisation is about inspiring kids to love cricket and if this has damaged the ability of cricket as a sport to inspire kids to play the game, love the game and idolize their heroes then it’s a sorry state and we need to do everything we can to replace that damage.”

After taking back the Ashes on their home turf, you would think the Australian cricket team would be more confident in themselves however it doesn’t seem that way. Within each match in South Africa there was some sort of controversial front page story, and they all seemed to revolve around David Warner. From on field sledging to hallway confrontation between Warner and the South African team, the spirit of the game seemed non-existent. 

This scandal could be the cherry on top for test cricket. Maybe the modern era isn’t set for long form cricket and it is evident that audiences prefer fast paced entertaining games. Test match’s just don’t have the same buzz that they had five, ten, twenty years ago.

It would be sad to see it become a distant memory but with the modern spin on the game, cricket won’t be going anywhere. 


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