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Cricket - dropped, kicked

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FOOTBALL'S less than stellar year has become cricket's problem.

The Kurt Tippett scandal, the Melbourne tanking investigation, drugs and the challenges facing indigenous football have all been unwelcome dramas for the AFL since the season ended. Collectively, these eruptions of controversy have made 2012 the longest ''season'' on record.

The AFL says the draft and salary cap are the pillars of the equalised competition. The Tippett affair undermined the sanctity of both.

The AFL is proud of its drug rehabilitation regime and likes to trumpet its success in ensuring integrity - largely via crackdowns on officials and players placing $10 bets. This post-season, the drug policy has been damaged by club complaint and speculation about players ''on the gear'', while the admirably rigorous Melbourne tanking probe, perversely, suggests to the public that tanking was real, did happen and that the AFL was in the denialist camp for too long.

Crowning this spring/summer of discontent was a perceived setback in what is the AFL's No. 1 point of legitimate boast, the progress of indigenous footballers - draft numbers were down and risk-averse clubs are muttering, behind closed doors, about the increasing difficulties facing young Aboriginal talent.

If we continue on the negative for just a moment, crowds were down, the bottom five or six teams were wooden-spoon worthy, almost half the competition are mendicant clubs reliant on hand-outs (a situation reinforced by the fixture) and several executives, most notably football operations manager Adrian Anderson, have exited AFL headquarters, though some would argue that an infusion of new people is timely.

Football officially winds up this week, when the AFL offices shut. The Magpies will be back from Utah soon, dispensing presents to the unfortunate - no, not just their membership - on Christmas Day. Footy will fade, although, as a media person, one can never be sure that a gun player won't find trouble in King Street, Lakes Entrance or even while backpacking in Greece.

Why is this litany of footy fiasco cricket's problem? Well, look at the back page, listen to SEN and check the sentences flowing along the screen bottom on Fox Sports. AFL controversy might hurt footy - I'm sure Andrew Demetriou would rather the Crows hadn't bent the rules, that tanking was truly a media fantasy, that the drug policy was considered 100 per cent kosher, that indigenous players were maintaining their market share - but these stories are also having the unintended consequence of creaming cricket.

No one within football that I speak to can remember a post-season like the one that is concluding this week. The only comparable tumult was in 2002, when Carlton's implosion bookended a year that Wayne Carey ''started''. Cricket is hurting, just in terms of commanding the media and (therefore) public attention, and it is further hamstrung by the fixture, which has Australia playing Sri Lanka, rather than England or India.

Unlike footy, which devises its own fixture and sees to it that there are bi-annual blockbusters, cricket, as a global game, is subject to international obligation.

It does not ''decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come''. Doubtless, there would be more interest in the Ashes, or Indians than Sri Lanka in its current Murali-less phase, but cricket cannot schedule the Poms to play Australia twice a year like Carlton and Collingwood; Boxing Day is not Anzac Day.

The Lankans, incidentally, draw well in Melbourne, due to the expat factor, but will not captivate the airwaves. A five-Test series against South Africa would have been more arresting, but even the Proteas seemed low profile.

The notion that cricket is losing ground to the AFL, and perhaps to rugby league, is not novel. But when the rout is discussed, it's often measured in talented two-sport kids - for example, Brett Deledio - and their choices.

In reality, the most important measure is media, which produces the rights, sponsorship and interest. Cricket Australia understands this, hence the high hopes for the Big Bash League as a way of winning youth with Nintendo attention spans.

Cricket is getting a heavier hiding this year than it did two years ago when the Australian Test team was embarrassed by England and we turned, overnight, into a nation of disgruntled Richmond fans.

The Ashes confirmed that Australia was in rebuilding mode. Yet the debate about what had to be done to revive our team was healthy in the sense that it generated passion and raised cricket's profile.

As one football insider, who knows the cricket world well, observed, cricket ''did a North Melbourne and didn't capitalise on a once-in-a-generation team''. In those 15 years of supremacy, when Australia boasted Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath et al, cricket made no inroads on footy's command of the calendar, which the AFL partly controls by having drafts, trades and various ''key dates'' scattered from October till December. This year, the trades lasted a month.

Today, due to footy's unintended imperialism, the cricket season - as defined by those of us who work in media - begins this week and ends in early February.

Tennis gets two or three weeks around the Australian Open. Golf is becoming mini. Soccer moved to summer to escape footy and the NRL but found there was no escape. For footy media, the season is from February 1 till the December draft.

Did cricket lack vision and enterprise, or is football an unstoppable media juggernaut?

Certainly, the AFL is more popular and intensely followed in its home states than cricket, which is weak in Western Australia where football is rampant but surprisingly strong in Tasmania (see Ricky Ponting, Matthew Wade, Ben Hilfenhaus), where there is no permanent AFL team; New South Wales is the cricket powerhouse and the AFL Third World.

In my childhood, cricket was close to par with footy in terms of profile. World Series Cricket, far from an existential threat to the game, served to heighten interest as we chose sides in that civil war.

Solutions aren't obvious. Move the Big Bash to October-November and take on the AFL trade period? Maybe. Can the international fixture be fixed? Unlikely.

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, as Oscar Wilde so memorably put it. A bit of controversy - even scandal - isn't necessarily so bad.

30 comments so far

  • Good article Jake. But isnt SEN part owned by the AFL? Surely that explains a lot. In my opinion if Sth Africa had been five tests it would have been far more prominent. It was low key because a three test series was meaningless. Adding insult to injury was the farcical third test in Perth being scheduled only three days after the Adelaide test. What happened? Players were so tired from Australia that it fielded a completely new bowling line up in Perth. Big Bash - I dont know - it is not cricket to me. They go on about it being popular - is it? No one I know who follows cricket likes it. They like tests. Another problem is the touring sides dont play any warm up games. They are still warming up in the first test. For instance Dale Steyne did not reach his peak till the latter parts of the Adelaide test. We are seeing underdone teams in the early tests. Same goes for Sri Lanka. One practice game. Cricket Australia is a joke.

    Commenter
    w ch
    Date and time
    December 16, 2012, 12:21AM
    • AFL is creaming cricket - yeah?? AFL probably has about 10 million people who have any interest in it. Cricket about 2 billion.

      It will be a very long time before AFL "creams" cricket

      Commenter
      Gaz
      Location
      Yarrawonga
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 1:10PM
    • Crickets losing popularity because when it's not played in Australia it's only on pay TV which most people haven't got, most kids don't get to see it because of this and are losing interest, it's becoming a game for the "haves" and not the have nots.

      Commenter
      Bushy
      Location
      Cressy
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 4:43PM
  • The big problem for cricket is that it has been seduced by and has surrendered its fate to the marketing people who don't understand the tribalism of sport.

    Test cricket will always remain close to Australian hearts but if you are overseas you can no longer hear the cricket via the ABC as Cricket Australia no longer allows it to be broadcast outside of Australia. What is the wisdom of this?

    The "Big Bash" is meaningless as it does not represent the tribalism that is so important to the way Australians enjoy their sport. Case in point...Melbourne Stars have blokes playing in it who are New South Wales shield players!! Not to metion also that the skills required for success in 20/20 are more akin to baseball than cricket.

    And as for the need for the obligatory aliterative names of the teams...spare me! Hobart Hurricanes...has anyone at CA realised that in Australia we call hurricanes "cyclones" and I am darnn sure that at 42 degrees south, Hobart has never seen one.

    20/20 simply isn't cricket and in its current format, has no meaning.

    CA are trying to be masters of all 3 forms of cricket and when you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one.

    Foget ODI's and let the kids play 20/20...Makes tests the priority and revamp the shield rules to support this and the people will come.

    Commenter
    Captain Grumpy
    Location
    Kingsville
    Date and time
    December 16, 2012, 7:10AM
    • Cricket has lost its characters and champions of the game, like quite a few other sports.
      You have a bland sport now played mainly by bland people.
      CA also has a lot to answer for.
      The schedule this year has been a mess.
      Slaughtering 50 over cricket for the sake of some quick $ with 20-20 is shortsighted.
      20-20 cricket is about as relevant as beach cricket and once the simpletons catch on it will die a quick death.

      Commenter
      CCC
      Date and time
      December 16, 2012, 7:16AM
      • Nothing new here. Football (Aussie rules, Rugby League) has always dominated the media. Pre-season has always pushed cricket off the back page even during an Ashes campaign. Nothing new.

        Commenter
        Grant
        Location
        ACT
        Date and time
        December 16, 2012, 8:44AM
        • Footballs crowds may have been down but cricket crowds have been plummeting for years other than a brief surge at the start of T20... The big bash won't help, they could barely get 10000 to the game last night. Though cricket does shoot itself in the foot having a test match on at the same time...
          Lets face it, footy is now an all year round event and news cycle.
          Almost all the best sports players in AFL states choose football over cricket. If Alex Keath had gone to Gold Coast he'd have played plenty of games and been a household name, now who knows that he's played a handful of games for Victoria (probably because they feel obligated to pick him).
          While I understand that indigenous players face challenges, surely this situation has been inevitable. The AFL/media has described for years about how indigenous players make up something like %2 of the population but %8 or so of footballers (I don't know the exact figures). Now that's correcting slightly it's not really a surprise...

          Commenter
          JW
          Date and time
          December 16, 2012, 8:45AM
          • Bring the game back to 18 players plus two reserves - this will bring the game back to an'all oval' game ridding it of the swamps, floods, excessive handballs and enable spectators all around the ground a view of the game. Less umpires, less intrusions, and bring back the reserve curtain raisers. It is still, by world standards a great game, it was once, less than 20 years ago, the worlds best game. It was then for the people, not for high paid CEO's, coaches and support staff, not to mention players and alleged Tv stars.

            Commenter
            Jayel
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            December 16, 2012, 9:50AM
            • the afl and afl media are killing the game slowly by the relentless coverage. it might surprise you to hear that at our workplace, where afl and particulalry afl dreamteam dominates discussion during winter, we actually need a break from it. over-exposure is not good.

              Commenter
              therealthing
              Location
              melbourne
              Date and time
              December 16, 2012, 11:54AM
              • I respectfully disagree Jake, I love the footy I'm a tragic St Kilda supporter and for me footy news is always interesting. Does this detract from the Cricket? Hell no I loved the Aus vs SA series and agree it should have had 5 matches! Sri Lanka while not England are putting up a great fight in Hobart as we speak... One thing that damages the Cricket is having the big bash on Fox and only Fox!

                We are a sport loving country.

                Commenter
                Benno
                Location
                Kew
                Date and time
                December 16, 2012, 1:10PM

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