This summer’s international cricket series – which will stretch out even longer than usual to the first week in March – could hardly have got off to a worse start, and an increasingly unfriendly media has wasted no time in highlighting it.

The first Test between Australia and Sri Lanka at the Gabba was one of the most uninspiring in years – reflected by a massive 40 per cent drop in television ratings. Even Judge Judy rated more highly in Sydney last Thursday afternoon the opening day of the test!

Attendances cannot really be compared with last season’s record-breaking Ashes Series, but the 7,629 who turned up last Sunday was a woeful number by any measure. Looking around the empty stands I for one got the impression the turnstiles were double counting – or Cricket Australia has adopted the “pick a number and add 40 per cent strategy” the NRL seems to use, especially at Telstra Stadium!

There have been days when interstate Pura Cup matches have attracted a bigger crowd.

Despite PR hype from Cricket Tasmania about “promising” ticket sales for the Hobart Test starting on Friday, it has now been revealed that the Tasmanian Government is subsidising the cost of school children attending the test to boost numbers.

Australia’s dominance in Test cricket – now stretched to 14 match wins in a row – may end up being the game’s biggest problem. Yesterday’s suggestion from former coach, John Buchanan, that Australia should “lend” some its up and coming non-test players to other countries is surely taking things too far?

The worry for Cricket Australia is that the position won’t improve in the coming weeks. Before Christmas, Australia will meet New Zealand in three one day matches and a Twenty20 match. New Zealand is currently ranked fifth on the One Day International ratings table so another lopsided series looms.

Then Australia and India will player three Tests, the first starting on Boxing Day in Melbourne. While India ranks third on the Test ratings table, England ranks second! If Australia scored an easy clean sweep against the Poms last summer, what will it do to India this summer?

When the Test series ends, one day internationals between Australia, India and Sir Lanka will run over five weeks in February-March. If the Test series are lopsided, Cricket Australia and Channel Nine will struggle to get the bounce they will need – and usually get – out of one day cricket. And they won’t be getting any help from the print media. Last Friday’s part media lockout that involved News Limited writers and photographers did not win Cricket Australia any friends; yesterday’s Daily Telegraph story headlined “Huge Drop in Crowds and Ratings” is a reminder.

And today’s Telegraph and Courier-Mail sports lead story claims soccer is seriously challenging cricket as the summer crowd drawcard! Even the Fairfax media has joined in the assault – see yesterday’s Age piece by Greg Baum headed “Cash Grab Makes Cricket Australia Look Like A Glutton”.

And when, or if, Cricket Australia gets the media back onside there might be the rather larger matter of re-building bridges with a Federal Labor Government if the polls are even remotely accurate. That might make Cricket Australia’s media problems seem like a pushover by comparison!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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