Once upon a time I could name you every single player in the Australian Cricket team. I could name everyone in the NSW Cricket team and even players on the fringes who played Sydney club Cricket. I could name most of the players in other state teams too. It was easy!
Then something happened. Cricket stopped valuing itself.
It decided that the Test and One Day teams should basically be seperate entities. That meant that ‘Playing for Australia” was devalued as selectors looked for specialist One Day players and allrounders whop they felt could get a job done for the One Day side, but who were not really up to Test Cricket standards.
When Twenty 20 Cricket come along, it was supposed to be an evolution. It was strange because, I thought it was nothing more than a game of hit and giggle, and yet in saying that I heard the ghosts of World Series Cricket floating around me. You see, when One Day Cricket first started up, many people said the same thing. It was a Mickey Mouse version of the sport. It was hit and giggle. It wasn’t real Cricket!
Ive grown up with One Day Cricket and I feel like all of those opinions have proven to be wrong.
So, I gave Twenty 20 Cricket a long time to grow on me. It gave me something to watch when they first started playing game in Australia. Just the odd game here and there as a lead in to summer. When the Indian Premier League started up, I even tried to give that a shot too. This extremely short version of the game was being pushed hard, and as a Cricket fan I wanted to enjoy it.
It all left me feeling empty. Where once Cricket followed a proud path from the club scene, to the state scene and on up to Test Cricket, not players were playing for franchises no one had any connection with. It was generating a lot of money though, so administrators of the game went all in and now even in Australia we have the Big Bash League with a lot of teams thrown together by marketing types.
We are told it is the future. We are told it is great. We are told it really means something. Yet, even the players don’t seem all that commited to the cause. Yes, they love the money, and who can blame them for that? However, when players commit to a team and then “rest” or even leave the side part way through a competition because of a playing commitment elsewhere, what message does that send to the Cricket public?
Why should I invest myself in Twenty 20 Cricket when it seems like players and administrators aren’t all that willing to invest in it themselves?
How can I not treat Twenty 20 Cricket as a joke when the people running the game are looking to give a start to a couple of runners because they are Jamacan?
You also have to factor in that they have saturated the market with this. Where once Cricket was easy to follow, now, who knows what is happening this summer, let alone in six months from now! I look at the Australian teams, all three versions we now have, and there are players I have never even heard of. I watch tests and I have no idea who an Australian test player is…..and I’m a sports tragic!
If this is what I’m thinking about, what are much more casual fans thinking? Are they just lapping up whats on offer today without a second thought for the game as soon as its all over? There is no doubt Test Cricket still has some longevity, but try to remember the last memorable One Day game you watched. As for Twenty 20 Cricket, you’d be flat out knowing or caring about the last time your country played that form of the game, and I think the complete lack of interest in the recently played Twenty 20 Cricket World Cup proved that.
Not long ago, if you played for Australia, it really meant something. Now, there are dozens of players that “play for Australia”.
So, what does any of this have to do with Rugby League? Where is the cautionary tale for the game that really holds my heart?
As a sport, Rugby League has completely devalued its own Test set up. We play few games, we play them randomly and players switch nations at will on a regular basis.
In the same way the Cricket has lost me because it holds no value in itself any more, so too international Rugby League has lost me.
Unlick Cricket, which has sold itself so far down the river that it will take a decade to claw its credibility back, international Rugby League can fix its own problems with three simple changes.
1. Fix the eligibility rules.
2. Put in place a full time international governing body.
3. Develop a long term international calender that forces test teams to play each other at least once the four year cycle between World Cups.
Now there will be Rugby League administrators out there that will read those three simple changes and immediately say “We can’t do that!”. Fine, if they can’t make that happen, tell me why I should invest any of my time of interest in what they are currently dishing up? If it is not important enough to our games administrators to want to go out and fix problems, why do they think it will be important enough to anyone else to watch the games they put on?
In a world where the sporting market is completely saturated with noise, doesn’t it make sense that a sport that simplifies things would stand out from the crowd? One that doesn’t have a handful of national sides or a confused, eratic calender. One that gets you back to basics, that lets you know when games are on, that it is a format you are familiar with. One that can say these are the best players born and bred in Australia vs the best players born and bred in New Zealand, England, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, France, Fiji, Samoa, Wales, Italy, the United States, Ireland and Scotland?
If Rugby League does not place a value on test football, protect it and put in place measure to try and improve it fans of the game, let alone casual sports fans, are going to not bother following what has decended into a free for all.
The lessons are there. I wonder if the games administrators are paying attention?
A well known Rugby League writer, League Freak has established a reputation among supporters of the game for his fearless commentary and unmatched insight. With a reach that spans both sides of the globe, League Freak has produced an independent network that allows him to distribute content to his many thousands of followers. He is the owner and main author of LeagueFreak.com