AUSTRALIA’S summer of international cricket officially got under way on Sunday, but few outside of the sport’s keenest fans would have realised.
What is set to be one of cricket’s most important summers in the past 40 years began with a whimper, not a bang, at Perth’s dazzling new stadium as the Australians meekly surrendered to South Africa in the first game of a three-game one-day series.
Outside of the 60,000 fans at the game, however, for the first time only viewers with access to pay television were able to tune in to watch the match.
A new broadcasting deal you struck earlier this year will see the Seven Network broadcast international matches this year, instead of the usual voices on Nine, with Foxtel also gaining a greater slice of the action. And the first real casualties have been international one-day matches which, until now, have always been shown on free-to-air TV.
While the broadcasting deal was a lucrative one – worth more than $1 billion to Cricket Australia over six years – there will also be a significant cost.
With only about one-third of Australian homes having access to pay television, two-thirds of the country is no longer able to watch the Australian one-day team in action.
And sports officials are keenly aware that taking matches off free-to-air inevitably means a massive drop in public interest in those fixtures.
But at a time when Australian cricket is still reeling from the ball-tampering affair in South Africa and when selectors seem to be blooding new faces in every match, a drop in interest is the last thing cricket needs.
Professional sport survives and thrives on a cult of personality surrounding the biggest names, and Australian cricket is lacking in big names at present.
With Steve Smith and David Warner serving 12-month suspensions for their roles in the ball-tampering affair, cricket needs new heroes to capture the public’s imagination.
But that simply won’t happen while the national side is confined to playing its matches in the backblocks of pay-TV.
The broadcasting deal gave Cricket Australia a massive injection of funds but its timing could not have been worse.
But with Australia struggling terribly in the middle, the nation’s most loyal cricket fans might be happy they can’t watch the unfolding trainwreck.