Over a decade ago, before the inception of the Franchise system, one of South Africa’s leading provincial unions decided to tackle the tricky subject of dwindling crowds at first-class matches.
The solution, they decided, was to remove as many disincentives to come to the cricket as they possibly could and therefore to dispense with the entrance fee – which had already been cut from the previous season.
The result, interestingly, was that the average crowd figure for a day of first-class cricket went from around 500 … to 200. The reason, so the marketeers said helpfully in hindsight, is that if a vendor places no value on his wares then how on earth can he expect his customers to do so?
And so it is with Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa with regard to international series between the two countries. Years ago they were unable to overcome the stubborn, egotistical obstinacy about ‘festive season’ fixtures. CA chief executive James Sutherland refused to countenance any notion of his national team playing anywhere other than Melbourne and Sydney at Christmas and New Year and offered a derisory compensation payment to CSA.
CSA, meanwhile, insisted that ‘festive season’ cricket in South Africa was no different – and no less important – to that which happens in Australia. Actually, the Boxing Day Test match at the MCG is the greatest annual event the game has to offer – anywhere. And the New Year’s Test at the SCG isn’t far behind. Players who are fortunate enough to be a part of the experience benefit not only for the rest of their careers, but their lives. CSA still don’t even know where to put the Boxing Day test to ensure the least embarrassingly small turnout.
But there was no compromise to be had. Both country’s administrators preferred to downgrade each other to ‘junior’ tourists playing either at the beginning of the season or the runt end. So instead of the Proteas playing in front of 75,000 in Melbourne on December 26th, they will strut their stuff in front of 15,000 in March at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval.
But that’s not all, folks. So much do both parties still value the worth of the competition between these two once great teams – that they have reduced this summer’s forthcoming series in South Africa from three Tests to two. They say it’s inevitable because of an overcrowded schedule – but surely they, as the governors of the game in their respective countries, have some input when it comes to scheduling?
Still, there is something to celebrate this week with the announcement of an external inquiry and forensic audit into CSA’s financial dealings. Talk of “missing millions” was crass, stupid and irresponsible – nothing like that has happened. It was always a question of correct procedure and business protocol. Not even the smallest businesses can simply raid the petty cash box for sandwich money whenever they want to. And if there is even a suspicion that a larger company has done something similar on an equivalent scale, then it’s in that company’s best interests to clear its name and reputation as quickly and as publicly as possible.
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