Making Cricket into Footy – The Cricket Big Bash League

Last night I went to the first match in the new version of our domestic cricket T20 Big Bash competition – with the “Sydney Sixers” up against the “Brisbane Heat”, at the SCG – a ground that had not been utilised a great deal in previous T20 attempts. I don’t know if there has been a massive amount of chatter about the competition, outside talk about Warne – whether it is about his cooking skills or that Shaliz will be getting red carpet treatment whenever his “Melbourne Stars” have to travel interstate. It is, however, an attempt to make summer domestic cricket teams and their games more a regular part of a city’s life, like football clubs and their games. It is an interesting and positive idea.

One concern for Cricket Australia would have been the crowd numbers – it was a just over half full SCG.  T20 is more important to cricket than people may think.  It’s no longer the case that Australia is a sporty nation that had just one major sport over summer. Cricket competes more and more with other forms of entertainment for supporters and participants with children and Generation Y.  T20 is the main way to appeal to these audiences – Test cricket is not. That appeals to the rusted on supporters of the game.  This is why the marketing for the series has been planned meticulously in order to build this competition and have it lodge in the collective imaginations of the cities represented. The job for CA is to build the culture of T20 beyond its current occasional status (well covered, oddly enough, by the Mirror in London here) – as well as ignore the criticism of the timing of the competition from newspapers and from senior players.  What these critics need to understand is that T20 is to tests is the same as the relationship of pop classics like Pachelbel’s Canon is to Mahler Symphonies – it’s a way to introduce the idea of “cricket”.  And it is much better in that role than 50 over cricket.  And the summer school holiday break, when people aren’t as consumed with the working year, is the perfect time. There were good signs for the organisers, though.

It struck me turning up to the ground that it wasn’t unlike going to a Friday night football game at the MCG – people going to a game after work. There were plenty of middle class people in business clothes turning up and plenty heading to the Members’ Stand. This is why it is a good idea for the SCG to be utilised.  It is for this issue of game timing that T20 could really work as a widely enjoyed, regular sporting entertainment concept at the SCG, rather than just the giggle hit thing that many older cricketers believe it is.

It was also good that there were plenty of children about – including mine. My 9 year old daughter and 11 year old son with autism are very harsh judges when it comes to entertainment in public venues. They whinged bitterly when I insisted we were going to the game. They really don’t like it when I have a test match on the TV. “Cricket’s boring” came the cry in unison. This attitude melted somewhat after a number of good moments – the flying octocopter taking the match ball to the centre fascinated them, as did the fireworks and fiery jets at the start. Sitting square of the wicket near the action also meant that the screen was in full view, plus the fast cricket action and big shots kept them interested – for a time (the iPad is a marvellous backup). Sitting near the Sixers’ dugout on the ground also helped – my daughter, by the end, was craving more and more signatures on her new magenta hat. Though – there needed to be an explanation as to who each player was (when went along the lines of – watching Brett Lee’s backside kept your mother pleased during the summer of 99 – 00 when she was very heavily pregnant ; Stuart MacGill hosts a wine show and has a great range of angry facial expressions ; Moises Henriques is a young up and coming player ; Ed Cowan is a bloke your father knows through Twitter).

For the cricket fans in the crowd, it was a great night out at the cricket. Matthew Hayden, Lee and MacGill showed that class can be timeless, and that T20 gives veteran players a way of prolonging a career – with the outcomes of continuing to please knowledgeable cricket followers ; astounding the new ones, as well as acting as mentors for the younger players.  It was also a showcase for a lot of skills that we don’t see during a three hour period of a test match or one day game. The amount of skied balls, for example, tests out the catching ability of teams, and the throwing ability is tested with the increased number of suicidal singles. The players appear to have been well chosen and the game never really flagged – and good bowling did get its rewards.

I was less impressed with fact there were cheerleaders as well as the choice of male MC – Gus Worland.  Worland works for Triple M Sydney’s Breakfast show, The Grill Team. I used to listen to the Grill Team only when Stuart MacGill was on the show. To me, Worland was the dead weight of the show – turning the atmosphere awkward with his attempts at humour and downright repugnant with a number of deliberately incendiary comments. I frequently wondered how someone like MacGill could work with him. His schtick on the radio and last night can be best summarised as “look at me, an ordinary sport fan doing and saying these really cool things you aren’t doing and saying”.  It smacks of arrogance and comes across as humourless boasting.  I also squirmed when he was holding up various cheerleaders as they were doing one of their routines. It wasn’t a good look. It reminded me somewhat of the sexism you see whenever the ground announcer for the Penrith Panthers makes comments about their cheerleaders. That stuff may have been popular in the 80s, but we have moved on. The Swans ditched the Swanettes many years ago. The Sixers should not have gone there. In addition, the Sixers should have selected announcers who are quick and funny and are associated with less daggy radio stations – perhaps Fitzy and Wippa from Nova.  MMM people would be better to associate with the western Sydney team – the Thunder. Even then, Mark Geyer would be a better choice, due to his warmth and the esteem with which he is held in the west.

This brings me to the overall strategy of CA in the formulation of the teams.  The Sixers are being pitched to city workers as well as people from the east and north with the magenta uniforms and “celebrity” angle.  They are firmly pitched against the “hard working” western suburbs types who wear Ed Hardy, drink Bundy and Coke and listen to ACDC – the Thunder. I would expect temporary tattoos as a part of their merchandising effort.  It’s a canny move in Sydney, where geographical divides (caused partially by the inaccessibility of the road system) does help to define the cultural engagement of communities – as opposed to Melbourne, which is much more centralised.  On that, it’s good that Melbourne has a “Stars” team, linked to Crown Casino, Eddie McGuire and the establishment of the city and a “Renegade” team for the alternative thinkers. They are good moves, in that they show a good knowledge of the cities. What is not such a good move is the decision to make reserved tickets $40 each – it’s a big commitment to ask crowd members to make. This is partially the reason that – yet again – we saw an empty top deck of the Victor Trumper Stand. They should continue the practice from the early T20 games at Homebush – have no price tiers, just one general admission price for the non-member areas. That will boost the crowd numbers, which makes the game look much better on TV – which, really, is the main game for CA.

Overall, though, the new competition is a big improvement on the past one. You can see the culture being built – that there is a potential to build word of mouth promotion. The SCG should be part of the future of T20, as should the MCG. Giving each team a personality is also a positive. If the quality of cricket and entertainment was as good as last night’s, then I can see a viable future for it.

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