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Cricket’s vanishing act

Australian cricket’s vanishing act 

One night early in the history of the BBL when it was clear the concept of city-based franchises with jazzy logos and fluro team colours was working beautifully Adam Gilchrist in a moment of commentary box reflection sat back and observed ‘the BBL as I see it is a six week soap opera, on your screens every night. Heroes and bad guys and every personality in between with plenty of twists in the plot’.  He’d summed it up perfectly. Cricket, the game that evolved in the Victorian era has its own built in and priceless advantages. With its close ups, wide sweeps and built in ad breaks. It has the perfect format for television.

It’s what in a commercial sense drew Kerry Packer to the game more than four decades ago. Perfect summer content for his TV network with the potential as it turned out to become prime time viewing. The bold experiment of cricket under lights gave us the phenomenon of the day/night international. That driver of mid-week TV ratings and unscripted family drama that brought new and mass audiences to the game.

Forty years since the lights (Packer’s cigars they were called) went on for the first time at the SCG, the allure of the 50-over one-day international has faded to the point that it’s been awarded the status of pay-for-view TV fodder alongside A-league soccer games and Asian golf tournaments. The magic of a summer night’s cricket viewing on free-to-air TV is now reserved for the BBL and Gilly’s summer soap opera.

Where can I find the T20?

You had to look hard for the T20 international between Australia and South Africa last Saturday night. Sure there was a sub-tropical downpour on the Gold Coast that cut the length of the game in half but when the 10-over-a-side affair did start it did so behind the paywall. It was hard not to draw the conclusion the national shirt wasn’t being devalued in the process. Though to be fair (Ashes series in the UK excepted) the only way to follow the fortunes of the Australian team on its overseas adventures is on pay TV.

In the UK pundits, purists and other lovers of the game worry about cricket’s disappearance from what they call ‘terrestrial TV’. The last test series to be broadcast without cost to the general public over there was the 2005 Ashes series which wasn’t so much a soap opera as a five-part Shakespeareans drama. The sort of contest that captures then wins over the hearts of young or budding followers of the game. Now when you hear of anecdotes concerning declining participation in community cricket (in the UK) the conclusion is drawn that the issue at hand is not enough people are able to see it being played at the highest level.

If nothing else the development of the same problem of in this country creates uncertainty in the minds of the regular cricket fan. Can I watch this game or can’t I? Indecision, the downfall of many an on-field strategy.

Thank goodness for ABC Radio

Luckily ball by ball commentary on ABC Radio comes for free (or at least for a small taxpayers’ contribution), the sound of the game available any time you want at the press of the button. You shudder to think what a loss to the game it would be if that were no longer to be the case.

Radio commentary in the car, tractor or on the beach is one thing but the attention of the prime TV audience is another. Will cricket fans be prepared to pay to watch their national team play home limited overs internationals on TV or will they just generally lose interest and allow the magic of canary yellow to fade? And just wait for cricket’s newest and biggest attraction (the BBL) to fill the void…

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