Call to aid one-day game's battle for relevance

LIKE a movie director who introduces a new character who suddenly dominates the final scenes of a film, the West Indies have entered the fray at the fag end of the summer and, seemingly, have been caught by surprise.

There was a time when the West Indies' arrival in Australia would whip cricket fans into a lather, but not any more. The Windies are no longer the power they were, and nor are Australia. Neither, for that matter, is the 50-over game, which continues its struggle for relevance outside of the World Cup.

The TV audiences are high enough for ODIs to remain commercially worthwhile, which Cricket Australia says is a sign of interest, though the format can ill-afford more matches which do not cross into prime time. The fans, it seems, are more prepared to watch from their living rooms rather than fork out their hard-earned.

There were plenty of spare seats at the WACA Ground for the series-opener, scheduled predominantly during office hours, and a repeat is likely for Sunday's game, for which only 7000 tickets have been sold. In contrast, the Perth Scorchers' final four matches of the Big Bash League were sold out.

Canberra's first international fixture has created huge interest in the nation's capital, drawing a sell-out crowd, but only 8500 tickets have been bought for Friday's game at the SCG, for which a modest crowd of about 18,000 has been tipped.

The Australian Cricketers' Association, while not wanting to add to the negativity surrounding the game in the country, has long held the belief there is too much international cricket being played.

They believe the five-game series, like any international fixture, did not lack context, saying rankings points and financial bonuses were at stake.

The Australian hierarchy also view the Windies matches as critical for Australia's preparation for the ICC Champions Trophy and, ultimately, the 2015 World Cup.

But the association says CA should consider two three-game ODI series and two Twenty20 series of the same length each summer.

They could be staged before the Tests, which would build anticipation heading into the headline matches of the season.

''It's not easy but it's certainly not impossible, [although] you have to get the other country to fit in with our schedule,'' ACA chief Paul Marsh said. ''Certainly having a chat to the English leading into the 2005 Ashes series, their view was those one-day games was the perfect formula because it built so much anticipation around those Ashes series. Then in 2009 they played the one-dayers afterwards and there was very little interest.

''That's something that could be explored but you have to preserve the Boxing Day Test match and the New Year's Test match. I wouldn't want to paint that as a solution but that could be something that could be looked at.''

The ACA is a fan of the tri-series, which was used a year ago but shelved this summer, as it had more context but that format also created scheduling difficulties as Australia have to reciprocate any matches played by the visiting teams.

''When India play Sri Lanka, Australia owes them both a game,'' Marsh said.

Marsh can sense an extra appetite for more Twenty20 internationals and wants to see the elimination of two-game series, like the battle against Sri Lanka, and one-off matches, which the West Indies will play later this month.

''To me that has no context, it doesn't fit,'' Marsh said. ''I'm convinced we need less one-day cricket and having a three-match T20 series makes sense. Just having one-off games doesn't really.

''In this day and age, countries have separate teams. If we reverse the situation here, [do] we play a one-match Twenty20 series in the West Indies and send a team over there? It's costing us a lot of money to send a team over there for one game that the fans would not take particularly seriously, I'm not saying the players wouldn't. That's also taking the piss out of international cricket, when you're picking the best side to save money.''

This story Call to aid one-day game's battle for relevance first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.