Angus Fraser: Images of fans huddling under blankets do little to sell the game
Saturday 16 May 2009
If Test cricket is to retain its position at the pinnacle of the sport, series like the one between England and the West Indies must become a thing of the past.
It is, of course, a cricketer's job to play cricket. It is what he is paid to do. And the revenue generated by television rights, gate receipts and sponsorship help underpin the game. But the images that have emerged from Lord's and Durham, those of groups of spectators huddled together drinking warm tea under blankets in half-empty stands, do nothing to inspire youngsters to go out to play the sport.
Cricket is the summer game and the best exposure it gets is when it is being played in short-sleeved shirts under a cloudless sky. We all know the weather in the United Kingdom can never be guaranteed, but there are times when there is a greater chance of the sun shining and the temperature reaching 20 degrees, and early May is not one of them. Those who have recently tripped over cricket whilst flicking through the channels at home must sit there and wonder what pleasure these supporters get from such an experience. Looking at the body language of an apathetic West Indies team it is clear they are not enjoying it either.
Sporting events, especially those involving international teams, should not be organised just to fulfil contractual obligations and to raise revenue. International matches should mean something and provide lovers of the sport with occasions they are eager to attend. When there is too much international cricket played, as there currently is, the value of the product is diluted. Apathy seeps in to spectators and players alike.
During a Test every aspect of a player's personality is challenged – fitness, skill, courage, technique and concentration – and games should be played between teams that are well prepared and have every chance of performing to their full potential. The current scheduling of matches gives most international sides very little chance of achieving that goal.
Sadly, the desire to present a high-quality product does not seem to apply to everyone in the game. Some appear to judge the value of an event solely by the amount of money it raises, others on whether their side wins. Great contests, as the 2005 Ashes highlighted, are played between teams that are playing to their maximum. For Tests to mean something the runs scored and wickets taken in them have to mean something. Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara batted superbly on Thursday and Graeme Onions can rightly be proud of the seven wickets he took at Lord's on debut. But they would mean more if they were accumulated against a well organised side that gave the impression that there was nowhere it would rather be than out there playing cricket.
Chris Gayle's comments on Test cricket are a concern, but his word seems to be that of a man who wants to earn a quick and easy buck. For Test cricket to flourish, governing bodies must ensure they do not follow Gayle's example. For some, however, it may be too late.
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