ACTING captain George Bailey says Channel Nine is deliberately talking down one-day cricket to secure a favourable broadcast deal.
Bailey, who will lead a below-strength team containing three debutants onto the MCG on Friday following the controversial decision to omit the retiring Michael Hussey and rest big drawcard David Warner, also said crowds for ODIs had taken a hit because sophisticated television coverage gave fans little incentive to get off the couch.
Nine was unimpressed with the decision to leave out Hussey, Warner and Matthew Wade, along with hamstrung captain Michael Clarke, for the first two one-day internationals of the summer against Sri Lanka, fearing a ratings blow. But Cricket Australia has described as offensive the depiction of Bailey's side as a ''B team''.
The Melbourne Cricket Club expects a much smaller crowd than the 46,581 which attended the Melbourne Big Bash League derby on Sunday night, and is preparing for between 25,000 and 30,000 to brave the hot weather on Friday.
Nine's exclusive negotiating window for a new broadcast deal has closed, allowing Cricket Australia to test the market with rival networks Seven and Ten. However, Nine's last-rights option puts it in the box seat to sign a five-year deal, which CA hopes will fetch a total of $500 million. Bailey suggested recent criticism from Nine's director of sport Steve Crawley was aimed at keeping a lid on the price.
''I can probably understand it coming from Channel Nine. They are going into negotiations about the TV rights and I think that was a pretty tactical move to try and talk down one-day cricket and what the Australian team is putting out,'' Bailey said.
''But it's still called the Australian cricket team, whether you're missing a few players through injury at any stage. For these two games this is the best side Australia can put out. There might be a few debutants in this game but I've got no doubt if guys perform well you'll see these guys a lot more in one-day cricket and you'll see some of them in Test cricket. The calibre of player is certainly there.''
Though ODIs in Australia regularly attract a television audience of more than 1 million people, and are of enormous financial importance to Nine and CA, the MCG has not had a crowd of more than 50,000 for a one-dayer since Australia and England drew 78,625 in the aftermath of the 2006-07 Ashes whitewash.
''I might have a bit of a left-field view but I think the way sport is shown on TV now is so good and you get so much information thrown at you that the better it gets delivered to the couch the less reasons there are to leave and watch it at a ground,'' Bailey said.
''Big Bash is popular because it goes for three hours and it fits in nicely. One-day cricket takes a bit longer and Test matches are becoming an event in themselves, it's as much about the spectacle and the event as the cricket. So one-day cricket, as far as crowds go, will be challenged at different times but I still think the actual cricket itself is very, very good … There's a huge element of luck in T20, and Test cricket will always be the ultimate test, and I think one-day cricket fits nicely in the middle those two.''
The five-match series against Sri Lanka is the first in Australia under altered rules for ODIs, the ICC's latest attempt to jazz up a tired format. The changes include an allowance for two bouncers an over instead of one, and a maximum of four fielders outside the circle in non-power-play overs instead of five.
Australia and New Zealand will host the 2015 World Cup and CA is trying to drum up interest in this season's games against Sri Lanka and the West Indies with campaigns such as ''Summer's Biggest Dress-up Party''. After the selectors unveiled a depleted squad this week for the first two ODIs, one fan told CA on social media that he would dress up as Mike Hussey, given the veteran batsman had not been invited.
Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene said one-dayers remained wildly popular on the subcontinent, which is cricket's commercial heartland.
''I think there is certainly a lot of interest in world cricket for the 50-over game and everyone is building a team for the next World Cup,'' he said. ''We've got a really big appetite for 50-over cricket. That's something that drives the [Sri Lankan] national team a lot; they enjoy their one-day and T20 cricket probably a lot more than Test cricket … ''