Tradition trumps dollars: Australia will never embrace T20 cricket like Tests despite ‘poor cousin’ raking in big bucks
As the international appeal of the T20 format explodes exponentially, it is still considered the “poor cousin” of the sport by many Australian cricket fans.
With Australia being the birthplace of Test cricket, the value of tradition is the strongest commodity for the sport in this country.
T20’s history is about 130 years shorter – a format that was developed by English county administrators looking to cash in on the extended summer sunlight hours in their northern part of the world.
In Australia, it has never been taken seriously. From the first international matches against New Zealand with retro uniforms and nicknames on the playing shirts to the early days of the Big Bash League when NRL star Andrew Johns was parachuted into the NSW team twice as a marketing gimmick.
Over the 19-year history of the BBL, from its state-based origins to franchise switch in 2011, it has constantly been derided as hit-and-giggle cricket and seen as a pale imitation to the IPL as the Indian money-spinner has morphed into a global gargantuan to the point where it is now considered the second-most lucrative sports league in the world after the NFL.
Australia take on the West Indies in a three-match series on home soil over the next week before heading to New Zealand for another trifecta of T20s.
But if you asked many Australian fans if they would prefer a sixth Test on the summer schedule instead of the T20s, the only question would be whether Manuka or Hobart gets the extra red-ball fixture.
Granted, the Windies aren’t the crowd-pullers that they were in their halcyon days or even a decade ago when Chris Gayle was bringing fans through the turnstiles with his power hitting.
But they are ranked seventh in the world in T20 cricket and with Andre Russell, Jason Holder and Nicholas Pooran making their first appearances Down Under for the summer, they have much more hope of causing an upset in Hobart, Adelaide or Perth than the ODI no-hopers who were swept 3-0 by Australia.
Even when Australia hosted the T20 World Cup at the start of last summer, it was seen as an entree to the main meal rather than what should be a marquee global event. And that was during a relatively lame bilateral international season when the Windies and a regressing South African side struggled to be competitive.
Australian T20 specialists are viewed with a sense of scepticism, that they are wearing the third, or at best second, most important kind of green and gold.
Someone like Tim David is a big name in India for his IPL exploits but Australian fans seem bemused by his huge reputation when they look at his output.
He’s had some explosive innings in the BBL but often he comes and goes quickly without making much of an impact.
It’s the nature of his role as a middle-order power hitter, basically cricket’s version of baseball’s designated hitter.
When it comes off, it’s spectacular, but more often than not the high-risk strategy of trying to clear the boundary pretty much from ball one can make for some unflattering statistics when viewed in the traditional sense.
David has batted 16 times for Australia in T20s. Only twice has he faced more than 24 deliveries, the equivalent of four overs, due mainly to getting out with a couple of red-inkers thrown into the mix.
But he’s passed 30 five times – a decent ratio for the highwire role that he tiptoes along – and even though his average is a modest 24.21 by usual measures, his strike rate of 158.2 makes him a valuable commodity on the T20 circuit.
He will get his chance to hit (or miss) against the Windies and is likely to be a certain selection for the World Cup in the US and Caribbean in June.
David Warner is also back in the Australian camp after jetting back from the UAE where he has been plying his trade for the Dubai Capitals in the International League T20 competition.
Like David, “Davey” can be hit and miss in T20 cricket – he strung together a run of low scores in the UAE (his highest score was just 42 in eight hits) but he is highly unlikely to be squeezed out of the selection picture leading into his international cricket swansong at the World Cup.
Steve Smith, who will skip this three-match series but return for the clashes with the Black Caps, is the established Australian player under the most pressure to make the World Cup squad with former skipper Aaron Finch saying on current form, the Test vice-captain does not deserve to be in Australia’s T20 starting XI.
Perhaps one of the main reasons Australian fans haven’t embraced the shortest format as much as other countries is because their men’s team plays T20s a lot less than the likes of India.
And when they do, it’s often a second-string side because multi-format household names like Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Smith and Travis Head are resting, as is the case for this Windies series.
The T20 format has proven to be the solution to cricket’s convoluted pathway to the Olympics and it will be the vehicle that will grow the sport across the globe.
Even though traditional countries like South Africa and the West Indies seem to be diverting their resources to the short format as it’s more financially lucrative, Australia, it seems, will happily remain a bastion for Test cricket.
And who says us Aussies don’t have a taste for the finer things in life?