Cricket Australia and the Art of the Pander


Yesterday Cricket Australia announced new rules to come into effect for the forthcoming BBL10 season. While they all have catchy names, they have all been trialled in or currently part of the first class cricket scene. In there most basic interpretation, they are:

Power Surge – What is essentially a 2 over Power Play that is nominated by the batting side for the second half of the innings.
The X-Factor – Super sub; and
Bash Boost – 1 st innings bonus points from the Shield

While not the most intrusive rules changes (as stated, these have all had their place in cricket before), the more worrying aspect is the language being used to promote these rule changes. “Excitement”, “entertainment”, “blowing up” the norms. As an endurance motorsports fan, I have heard the words so often that I have learned to loath them. The words of an organisation who see a massive cult following of hard-core fans and says “you know who we need to attract? The casual viewer”. In general there is nothing wrong with the casual viewer, they might flip on to check to see if their favourite bowler is bowling, hey, they might even have a favourite team, and you always need more eyes on a product. But the problem with the casual viewer is they have the attention span of a gold fish.

Team loses a couple of quick wickets, change the channel. Team gets pumped for 16 runs off an over, change the channel. Defensive struggle game, I wonder how MasterChef going tonight? Which is another issue with the Casual Viewer, the “I would love to invest time in watching this sport, but [insert play time] is too long/MasterChef is just more exciting” demographic is “easy get” for a marketing team. “If all we have to do to rope more people in, is make it more exciting, then all we just have to have more of those exciting close finishes that people always make videos and write articles about”.

But what makes a close finish exciting? Is it the final score being within a score? Or is it the stories of two teams going as hard as they can, being almost inseparable or a team digging deep at half time and clawing their way back? All are valid, but if your aim as an organiser is to get that excitement every game, then, it just feels forced, why?…. because it is forced.

Anyone who has sat down with me for a chat will know that I am more than happy to play the Alex Jones character.

But, if an organisation is aiming rulings for close finishes then the calls of “Oh, the referees just wanted to get your team close”, while not being lawfully accurate, still maintain more accuracy than any of the sane fans are willing to admit. How many times do we see in the NRL, a team gain a strong lead and as soon as they start to play a defensive game plan, there are odd offsides called or a forward pass goes 5 meters forward that isn’t called (don’t get me started on the forward pass rule). Is it illegal? Is it illegal to slightly misinterpret the rules you make? Sure it pisses off all the people who bet 13+, but that’s why they got good odds.

So, why did I mention my love for endurance motorsports? Late 90s/early 00s I was a big NASCAR fan. Sure it was five hours of watching cars turn left, but there was something mesmerising about watching large chunks of metal that don’t want to turn, do almost the impossible. The length of the races was a great test of human endurance and technical engineering. NASCAR had huge ratings at that time, and with almost every track being sold out, it was hard to believe that it could fall over itself.

But then it happened, NASCAR got greedy with TV ratings and wanted to play with the big boys, the NFL. “How do we compete with the NFL’s audience when their season is starting and our’s was decided weeks ago?” Creating a more “exciting” season finish was the plan, out with the stuffy old “who ever has the most points at the end of the year” and in with the Chase. The Chase Was a horrible abomination that closed the top 16 up with 10 odd races to go. It was bad enough to say that your championship winner could’ve run mid pack all year, but when this system didn’t have the desired results along came the Playoffs. This was essentially the Chase, but it put winning ahead of having a consistent season and guaranteed that 4 drivers could win the championship at the last race.

Surprisingly (only to NASCAR), what gains they made in casual viewers they lost in die-hard fans, as a last ditch effort they introduced Stage Racing, which split the 400 miles races into 3 chunks, put restrictor plates on the engines at all the tracks and added Green-White-Checkered finishes to keep the drivers close to each other. And create that exciting finish every week.

F1 went through a similar problem with their qualifying sessions, originally using timed practice sessions on Friday and Saturday to set the grid, it was changed to two 1½ hour sessions with only 12 laps allowed, then one session, before hitting the disaster of one lap qualifying. V8 Supercars got so sick of one team being dominant, that they made all the cars technically the same as well as fiddling around with “cost cutting” measures so much, that they killed the privateer teams by increasing the costs by stupid amounts, oh and the category is now dominated by two teams.

Each of these disciplines had major followings of die-hard fans that would drop everything for a race. Sure the races took a bit to sit through and you lost a day (sometimes two) from your weekend. But it was about the ride, the story, it was about the guys that had bad fast cars all weekend and destroyed the opposition. Anyone who has played sport knows that some days you click, some days you don’t. That’s sport, you take your gear home, sink some cold ones and give next week a crack.

But somedays were special, there was a tough battle all day, you were down at half and fought your way back, hell, maybe you didn’t even win. Those games are special to you BECAUSE they are the rarity, they are the games we play and watch for. But a season of it just feels… boring, scripted, staged.

One has to remember, dear sports fan, that T20 came about as to pander to the casual viewer, as a way for Joe Blogs to head out after work and see a full game of cricket. If the pander needs tweaking then the shift has already happened and they are losing the loyalist as quickly as they are gaining new viewership.

Can Cricket Australia pull out of the nose dive quick enough? Sure, stop pandering and leave it alone to create its own stories and for God sake leave Jo to watch MasterChef in peace.

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