By nearly every measure, the opening Test of the summer between Australia and the West Indies had much to appreciate: two double-centuries, another century (by one of the double centurions, no less), someone out on 99, a 6-fa, and a result on the fifth and final day.
And yet, Marnus Labuschagne’s heroics have received about the same amount of airtime and column inches as the paltry Perth crowd which sparsely filled a cavernous Optus Stadium on each day.
Only 42,723 fans got along over the five days – an undeniably pitiful result.
It’s strange for a sports-mad town with an elite stadium to ignore such a high-profile match – especially after two years of being shunned from the home Test schedule.
And yet… I was one those Sandgropers who didn’t go.
Despite me proclaiming to everyone within earshot over the past three years that I would go to any Test cricket made available once it returned to Perth, I didn’t.
Here are 10 reasons the Perth crowd was pathetic.
And just to clarify, they aren’t all reasons why I personally didn’t get along, but may have influenced my fellow West Aussies
This isn’t a rationalisation, or an excuse – just an explanation.
And before anyone asks, no, I don’t believe it’s to do with the axing of Justin Langer.
West Aussies love a West Aussie, but we don’t boycott to prove our point: we show up and slag people off.
Just ask Ian Healy how we felt about Tim Zoehrer not being in the side…
1. We’ve had a lot of cricket
Ordinarily there’s a horrible “sports purgatory” which exists in Australia between the end of the footy season and the start of cricket.
But this year, we had a solid month of international cricket from mid-October to mid-November thanks to the T20 World Cup (plus several warm up games against England beforehand).
The usual fervour surrounding the start of meaningful international cricket was lost. By the time the Windies rolled into town, many Perth cricket fans had already got along to a T20, either their national team against Sri Lanka or England, or one of the several between two non-Australian teams.
Which helped factor into…
2. No build-up or marketing
In recent years, Cricket Australia has confused and irked everyone with a bunch of meaningless (more on this later) T20s and ODIs at the start of the summer, which while not exactly satiating anyone’s appetite for cricket, at least builds anticipation for games which actually mean something.
For many Aussies, this means Tests.
But while many may deride T20s as a hit and giggle spectacle rather than a sporting event of any consequence, the T20 World Cup has grown in stature – especially since Australia has finally seemed to take it seriously, culminating in last year’s triumph.
So, while normally the first Test is seen as the first meaningful game of the summer, this year it became the latest in the long line of many.
Also – and this has been covered in depth a lot already, so I won’t dwell on it – we had arguably the most meaningless ODI series of all time, between Australia and England.
Where a dearth of cricket on our screens would build anticipation for a Test series, this year we were barely finished scratching our heads as to why we played three ODIs against the Poms as the first Test was starting.
There was a distinct lack of marketing in Perth; the only way I knew the game started November 30 was because of the signage around Optus Stadium (I go running there regularly, and yes that’s a humblebrag), and a few sponsored Facebook posts featuring a generic shot of Nathan Lyon appealing and required searching the text to discover what the post was about.
3. Wednesday start… in non-holiday time
When I discovered the starting day of the Test while smashing out the kilometres on foot, imagine my dismay at discovering November 30 was a Wednesday.
Day one is the best day to go to a Test, possibly day two. But who takes a Wednesday off work to go to the cricket? How crap would those final two days of the working week be?
And not only was it a midweek start, it was before everyone bails on work for the year. In fact, this is that annoying time of year when you’re busy trying to get stuff done before the Christmas shutdown, and kids are still at school.
Basically, taking a Friday off is a lot different to a Wednesday.
Or even a Thursday.
Not all teams can be England or India.
But, as sad as it is, not many are less appealing to play in Test cricket in 2022 than the West Indies.
They are ranked eighth in the ICC rankings and haven’t been a realistic chance of beating Australia in Australia since they did just that in 1992-93.
5. Got used to not having it
In the 1980s, Eddie Murphy had a hilarious bit about a guy who is starving being thrown a cracker, and thinking it’s the most amazing food he’s ever eaten.
After three years without a Test (or much international cricket at all), it seems Cricket Australia thought WA punters would react the same to whatever product was tossed their way.
But many WA cricket lovers may have moved on. They may have gotten used to Perth Scorchers games and Sheffield Shield being their only cricket indulgences. Not to mention, there’s also a little tournament going on in Qatar which has captured a few people’s attention.
But, much like someone who finally gets rid of Foxtel, maybe WA cricket fans just realised they weren’t missing all that much.
6. Not at the WACA
To be clear, this author does not condone the use of the WACA ground for anything at all.
It’s a shade-less concrete hellhole with facilities which made the dying days of Subiaco Oval look palatial.
Honestly, raze it to the ground for all I care.
But a lot of people feel differently. There’s a romanticism about the place, understandably, from the scoreboard to the hill to the Fremantle Doctor offering some sweet, sweet swing for into the wind bowlers.
When Optus Stadium opened, it was stressed cricket games against smaller-drawing nations would be held at the WACA.
That hasn’t happened.
Not only would a crowd of 11,000 be positively buzzing at the WACA, the prospect of heading along to the old stomping ground may have brough it in a few extra punters keen on some nostalgia.
7. Young people don’t care
Which brings us to some of the bigger problems facing cricket today: if holding an event at an inferior, smaller stadium may in fact boost attendance numbers, then there are questions to be asked about your audience demographic.
Case in point: as a 38-year-old dad, Saturday was the day being eyed off to get along for a day’s play.
There were pre-game concerns the game would be over by the weekend, but credit to the Windies (well, Marnus and Steve Smith, mainly) for keeping the game not only alive by Friday night, but very attractive: the Aussies would go for quick runs on Saturday morning, and then may grab some wickets later in the day. And yet, my Friday evening calls to mates to go to the cricket went unrequited.
Yes, this says more about me than the state of cricket, and yes, I spent a few hours sobbing while spooning my pillow.
But the reasons given by my pyker mates were the same as many 30-somethings since, well forever: family commitments, play dates, work, weddings…
The difference is nowadays there’s no one else interested.
Cricket has spent the past 20 years marketing T20s to the younger generation, and it’s worked… but there’s a cost.
Low Test crowds are international cricket reaping what it’s sowed.
8. The TV experience is pretty good
Did you know it gets hot in Australia during summer months?
A day at the cricket can be less a viewing experience than an exercise in heatstroke survival.
And while we may all like to hate on cricket commentators, be they from Channel Seven or Fox Cricket, the cricket television-watching experience is pretty good.
You get a better view of DRS decisions and replays, can get some analysis and also go off and do other stuff while checking in for a few balls or overs now and then. I mean, if you’re choosing between hard seats and 40-degree heat, and listening to Isa Guha in air-conditioning…
9. Times are tough
Look, as we all know, money is tight for a lot of people right now for a number of reasons.
Choosing not to drop a significant amount of coin on a cricket game is a pretty easy way tighten a household’s purse strings.
10. Games mean nothing
I am equal parts AFL and cricket fan.
But while I can tell you every AFL premier off the top of my head since 1979, I struggle to recall who toured in Australia three years ago, let alone the results of those series.
Simply put, most international cricket games don’t mean anything.
Do you think England fans cares their national side lost those three ODIs against Australia after winning the T20 World Cup?
Regarding Tests, the frustrating part is the ICC has done the right thing in introducing the Test Championship to add a weight of meaning to games.
But it requires a shift in thinking: all Test matches and series should be discussed in their relation to the Test Championship: who is where on the standings, what are the ramifications of each series, what does it all mean?
Because as it is, a random two-Test series between Australia and the West Indies clearly means very little – and, I’m guessing, not just to the people of WA.