I assume if you’re reading this, Cricket is probably pretty important to you. Or you at least like it. Taking a larger world view, though, cricket is really a pretty small deal. Or it is to some. England, for example, has so many things to their name – history, military prowess, royalty, empire – that cricket must really be a speck in the ocean to them. Australia has none of that.
Australia has sport.
England has sport, but cricket is completely washed away in terms of popularity by football (that’s soccer to my compatriots) and takes a back seat even to rugby union. You only have to listen to any sports program on BBC radio to know that.
Now, I’m not saying Australia has a right to the Ashes because England has so much else to keep them happy. Absolutely not. We want to win the Ashes back fair and square. I’m saying winning the Ashes is so important to us because all we really do, internationally and historically, is sport.
And we have sports besides cricket. Aussie rules would be the most important sport in certain states, while in other states it will be rugby of both or either code. Cricket is the nationwide sport. Cricket knows no state boundaries. And there are yet more sports besides: swimming, for example, hockey, gymnastics and netball. These we tend to do at school. Sometimes we do them a little longer but then we are consigned to the spectator seats, so we lose interest until the next Commonwealth Games comes around and they briefly appear on our radar again.
Cricket is all year, every year. One team for the entire nation. Only in cricket is the country united. And nothing unites us more than an Ashes victory.
Things aren’t quite the same as they were in the 1980s, it’s true. Back then, I was a kid and everyone watched cricket. We didn’t all love it; we didn’t all understand it. But we all watched it. And when the match in India finished early in our day because of time differences, we all took a rubbish bin into the front yard and we played it.
It seems that things have changed a little. It was revealed, at a conference in August, that Australian TV audiences for cricket have dropped significantly in the past decade and that, although cricket is still popular up to the age of twelve, there is a significant drop-off in interest beyond that. As for crowds actually attending matches, the figures have remained steady but have also not increased since 1980. Australian Football League and National Rugby League attendance figures, by contrast, have doubled in that same time.
I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds at this point – ticket sales for the upcoming Ashes series have been huge and figures show that there was a spike in crowds at cricket matches during the 2006/07 Ashes series; the drop in television audiences can be partly blamed on Cricket Australia’s inferior advertising budget in comparison to the AFL and, in some states, the fact that the telecast of matches is delayed even when the match is being played in that state; the loss of interest in teenagers must be partly put down to the internet, constantly evolving games and game consoles and perhaps even that old evil, television – but it is only going to get worse, especially if Australia keep losing.
So not regaining that little urn, as it turns out, is going to mean a lot more than I originally thought. It could mean cricket is in danger of becoming a minority sport in the future and this means watching it on TV could become difficult or even impossible. It could mean less money is invested in the game altogether and that will effect the development of young players and of good coaching staff. What these figures really highlight is that we are in danger of finding ourselves with very few Bradmans, Lillees, Waughs and Warnes to choose from in our cricketing future. It’s all too possible and very worrying.
Even without that report, losing will probably mean big changes for the national team. It will almost certainly mean a rethink on the captaincy. Ricky Ponting will have lost the Ashes three times, making him the least successful Ashes captain ever. Surely his place will have to be reconsidered. If Ponting is removed as captain, will he continue to play or will Australia lose it’s only truly world class batsman? If he does go, this can be unsettling to some of the players, especially the newer ones. You only have to scan over the Hauritz blog from the 2009 Ashes tour of England to see how much the new players look up to Ponting and, whatever criticism is laid upon him for some of his captaincy choices, there is no doubt he is a quality leader of men.
A loss at home may even bring on a complete overhaul of the test side. I believe, as do many, that the current selectors have a tendency to select players on reputation rather than form and are loathe to hand out baggy green caps to newbies. I don’t think, however, that a mass overhaul of team personnel is a good idea. Certainly consider having some new players ready to move in, if some are out of form or for those who are getting older, but getting rid of too many at once will cause chaos. We need some experience in the side to guide the younger men. Having a new and relatively inexperienced captain will be difficult enough but removing such test veterans as Katich, North, Hussey, Clarke, Siddle, Johnson and Haddon all at the same time can only cause trepidation in the newer players.
Finally, we have pride. It seems so small next to falling viewing figures, meagre future players and all that technical stuff, but it isn’t. We don’t often get beaten at home and we don’t want to start now. Samuel Johnson said “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, well call us all scoundrels then because what the Ashes means to every Australian – even those who claim not to watch it and not to like it – is beating England. Getting one up on the overlord, the historical oppressor.
We are the prisoners of mother England and we love to give ’em one back!
Article by Kirby Meehan