Cricket: when did a test match draw become such a bad thing?

I have gotten more and more frustrated this morning as commentators and fans alike have discussed over and over again when Australia will declare today and, as the morning as worn on, why Steve Smith has not declared.
 Has everyone forgotten there is a result in a test match called a draw?
 Situationally has everyone missed the fact that Australia leads the series 2-0 and wins the series with a draw?
 Some of the best test matches I have seen and read about have ended in draws yet the current generation of commentators and fans seem to have forgotten the draw as even a result.
 To me a good result today for Australia is to make sure that India don’t win. It is as simple as that. A win is a bonus and a great result but making sure India don’t win is the more important thing.
 Or maybe the game has changed that much we should just remove the draw as an available result?
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Australia in South Africa 2014: 1st Test ponderings

Let’s get this out of the way at the outset: this win by the Australian cricket team was their best performance in at least the last 24 months.  Yes, Australia defeated England but this was a win against the best team in the world.  A team that had not been bested in 19 test matches was just destroyed by the Australian team.

Mitchell Johnson bowled better than at any time during the Ashes series and that is saying much.  He bowled with pace and hostility but also, when the pitch changed, he threw in some excellent variations.  The ball of the game that showed Australia’s out and out domination of this game was in the last innings: Hashim Amla, one of the best batters of the last 5 years, was struck by a Johnson thunderbolt on the grill of the helmet.  This was a ball that Amla did not appear to see it and was rocked on his heals which is exactly what the Australians did to South Africans all game.

Another example of Australia’s dominance of this game and, indeed, an indication of just how well Australia played is that this test is the first in this current winning streak in wish Brad Haddin was NOT needed to play a significant role with the willow.

For the South Africans, Graeme Smith will be rueing his decision at the toss which will go down in history as a akin to Nasser Hussian’s toss imbroglio at Brisbane in 2002.  He will also be rueing lapses in the field that are so unlike the South African team that one suspects that they have to be an aberration at best. There is much to work on and much improvement in this camp: they must come up with a plan for dealing with Mitchell Johnson and they must find a way to get Dale Steyn fit for the first morning of the next test match.  They also must seek to reverse the trend of Australia coming back from adverse circumstances which has been the cornerstone of their wins in the last 6 test matches.

This is a golden 6 months for Australian cricket: every strategy that Michael Clarke seems to put in place, at least since the first day at the Gabba in November, has come off.  The batters that are being plucked from Sheffield Shield cricket without semblance of form are performing at the top flight. I can not remember the last time an Australian team played the same four bowlers for 6 test matches in a row.

There is a short turnaround between this test match and the next: the second test commences on 20 February.  As I wrote yesterday, Australia will select the same  team for the second test regardless of the fitness of Shane Watson.  South Africa have to look at their spin bowler selection and also have to look at what they do at the top of the order.  I expect both Petersons to be missing from the next test perhaps with Amla to open.

This result, more than any of the last six wins, has the feel about it that Australia has defeated a team of, at least, equals rather than a team in decline.  If the same result arises in the test match though then questions will be asked about whether this is a South African team in decline too.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the second test evolves right from the toss of the coin.

Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st test, Day 4

It has been a while since I posted on this blog. I apologise to followers for that: work has gotten in the way of writing which is something that vexes me greatly.

That said, having watched basically the full day of play yesterday, some similar themes about what it will take to “win” day 4 of this test match have been reverberating around my brain most of the night like a sirens song drawing me to the keyboard.

So, without further self indulgent preamble, here are my keys to success on day 4 at Blundstone Arena:

1. How many runs is enough for Captain Clarke?

Throughout the summer, Michael Clarke has shown good instincts with respect to timing of declarations only to be crueled, on the one hand, by an improving pitch (Brisbane) and, on the other hand, by one of the best rearguard innings since Atherton’s 185 off 492 balls in 1995 ( Adelaide). He is again faced here with the aegis of being one strike bowler under strength so will need to keenly balance batting Sri Lanka out of the game with giving his depleted bowling attack enough time to get the job done.

2. Who is the leader of the Sri Lankan attack and will he please stand up?

This is a Sri Lankan bowling line up that it would be fair to say is short on experience. Whilst Lasith Malinga plies his trade in the heady world of the Big Bash League (I concede he has not played in a test in over two years), the Sri Lankan fast bowlers together boast a collective experience of some 38 tests. In the first innings they looked to be bowling without a leader and, as shown by the lion hearted efforts of P Siddle, they will sorely need one in this innings to keep the Australian total down to a chaseable target. For me, the real key to a successful day for Sri Lanka will be how HMRKB Herath not only bowls but leads this young attack. With 5 left handers in the Australian top 7 and right arm bowlers foot marks growing today is a day made for a left arm orthodox tweaker.

3. Reviews, reviews and more reviews

The need to get the use of the DRS correct again raised its head yesterday with the Sri Lankans wasting their reviews on plumb LBW decisions only to see Herath dispatched by Tony Hill LBW having nearly hit the ball with the middle of his bat first. The Sri Lankan review methodology seems to be that whatever captain says goes so the pressure will be M Jayawardene to consult with this players and make reviews more prudently today. Two early “bad” reviews could, to state the obvious, be costly by the end of the day.

And that is it: how many runs is enough, Herath and the DRS are the keys to today’s play with the position the Sri Lankans are in by the end of the day largely reliant on Herath’s spinning finger.

Musings of a cricket fan: how do we get more people in the gates?

We are half way through another cricket test match at the Gabba and, setting aside the washed out second day, already rumblings have started about the size of the crowds attending days one and three of the game.

Such “yarping on” about the support of Queenslanders for test match cricket is nothing new and it must be conceded that, Ashes test matches aside, quite regularly the attendance numbers for the Gabba test match are lower than most would expect.

As a cricket fan who loves test cricket, I have often wondered why this is so and indeed have had pause to consider how cricket administrators can get more fans to the longest and premier form of the game in Queensland. After much reflection I think there are some lessons that could equally apply across the cricket playing world.

Dealing with the “why” issues first in the context of the current test match: some are obvious and others more illusory.

At the outset, the timing of this test match, both this year and in the past, has not helped getting the paying public through the door. Unlike the Melbourne and Sydney test matches (it is always from these centres where most of the grizzling about crowds come from), the bulk of possible paying attendees have to work during at least 3 scheduled days of the test. The Queensland cricket public does not get the benefit of the Christmas / New Year holidays traditionally taken by most and this obviously makes it more difficult for people to get to the game.

This rationale equally applies to getting more children to the game: presently it is not school holidays in Queensland so children attending on Friday, Monday or Tuesday is unlikely to be possible. Add to that that weekends during this time of year are difficult for parents to make time to bring their kids to a cricket game, either because of parties or because the kids themselves are playing sport (again unlike the Christmas / New Year period where such sport is suspended), and really it is unlikely that a large roll up of children is going to occur.

The next obvious issue that effects crowds, and this is, in my view, a more generally applicable issue, is that of cost. Ticket prices this year again increased on last year and it is just a fact of the current state of the world financially that a large number of people do not have available to them the discretionary spending power to be able to afford $65 for a ticket to a day at the cricket. I concede that there were cheaper tickets available than that which I purchased, but even the cheapest ticket (around $40) still presents as an expensive day out for most people.

The cost of the ticket is not the only issue of cost that is making it difficult to justify a day at the cricket. Food and drink prices at sporting arenas in this country are at best high and at worst “day light robbery”. $7.20 for a mid-strength alcoholic beverage is steep. $5 for a 375ml bottle of water is farcical. And do not even get me started on the cost of food.

The final facet of my thoughts about why the crowds are not what one would expect at the Gabba for the first test of the summer is more illusory as I noted in the preamble to this blog. It is this: it is just not fun anymore to go to the Gabba to watch cricket. There are so many rules related to the attendance of a game a cricket at the Gabba these days that for some people the “fun police” have ruined the experience of attending. The “mexican wave” is frowned upon, beach balls are skewered by security guards at the earliest opportunity and the creation of the fabled “beer snake” leads to a visit from two of Queensland’s constabulary. If it is not fun, why should people be enticed to attend?

Now I must stop here and state that some of the very “fun stuff” that has been outlawed irritates me to the point of red misted rage. However, fans, particularly those in certain states of inebriation, love that stuff and anecdotally I am aware the stringency of the rules has lead to less of my cohorts attending the game.

So where does that leave us? Is it simple enough to say that if Queensland Cricket get the timing, pricing and the rules issues right then the fans will rush back? Does this apply equally across all countries?

The timing of the games is obviously something that needs to be looked at but it strikes me as being difficult enough now to fit all of the games to be played in a summer in the schedule so that is unlikely to change.

Making the experience of attending a cricket game more enjoyable for the fans is something that must be looked at and an appropriate balance between stamping out anti-social behaviour and creating a police state within the ground needs to be reached.

The biggest thing that I think needs to be looked at is pricing of tickets for test match cricket. By making the tickets more financially realistic for people it must allow for a broader range of people to attend. One way to do this could be to lift the prices of tickets to T20 and ODI fixtures by $5 each and use those funds to equally subsidise a reduction in the ticket prices of test matches.

Test cricket is the heart of the game and the more fans that get through the gate the more comfortable true fans of the game will be of the long term survival of it. As a Queenslander who loves the first test of the summer and who wants to see the best teams play in that test, administrators of the game in Queensland must look at methods to get more fans to this iconic game with changing the pricing structure being but one of those methods. If this does not happen, it may be another 50 years before we see the best team in the world grace the grass of the Gabba. I truly hope that is not the case.