Saturday, 24 December 2011

Ron Reed: Twenty20 Big Bash jury still out

Shane Warne THE most enjoyable sporting moment of the week? It's a no-brainer. Take yet another bow, Shane Warne. Watching and listening to the old master nominate precisely how he was going to dismiss the Brisbane Heat's star batsman Brendon McCullum and then doing it exactly to order the next ball was fascinating.
He said later a bit of luck was involved because you can try those things 50 times on another day and they don't come off.
That's perfectly true, but luck still had less to do with it than the sublime skill, vast experience and unwavering confidence that went into his astonishing career as the best spin bowler in history.
His sense of showmanship was an important ingredient, too.The context for all this, of course, was that Warne's team, the Melbourne Stars, recorded their first win of the Big Bash, with a tick under 30,000 people almost filling Brisbane's Gabba ground.
For Cricket Australia, this was gold. If the Big Bash becomes the success story they hope for - and after the first six matches in week one the jury is still very much out - this will be remembered as the night it took off.
But it also posed what is perhaps the most perplexing question about the ambitious project - what's most important, the box office or the TV ratings?
The Brisbane game went through the roof in both respects but elsewhere the crowds - 13,000 in Sydney, 23,000 at the MCG and 13,000 at Etihad Stadium - have been underwhelming, to say the least.
But the TV audiences have been strong, giving Cricket Australia something to hang its hat on when it comes to jousting with the critics and sceptics.
I have always believed that while TV sport offers a lot, there is nothing like actually being at an event to suck up the atmosphere and take in the big picture.
But when you've got Warne miked up and delivering the insight and drama that he produced the other night ... well, you just don't get that sitting in the grandstand, watching the game in the old-fashioned way.
You have to suspect that whether they meant to or not, CA has found a way to get people to watch cricket as distinct from going to it - time will tell.
Another question that could prove critical is whether the combination of mostly low-profile international hired-guns, superannuated locals coming out of retirement, domestic level stalwarts and a few young up-and-comers will deliver enough star power to keep the punters interested.
Warne is Warne, of course, but whether Stuart MacGill and Brad Hogg, for instance, add much to the mix is debatable.
The two most entertaining innings so far have been played by David Warner and Shaun Marsh, who are part of the future of Australian cricket at all levels - but their Test priorities mean that the Big Bash won't see much more of them, probably no more in fact.
The Melbourne Renegades have made a disastrous start, losing both games and pulling a poor crowd to Etihad Stadium, but they have been desperately unlucky to lose their best player - and that includes their Pakistani imports - when Brad Hodge hurt his hammy in a practice match.
This column has been a fan of Twenty20 from the outset and we've watched some or all of every match so far, live or on TV. The positives have outweighed the negatives but for a range of reasons it simply hasn't caught fire - yet. Hopefully it will.
And on the subject of T20, the week's worst development was Boroondara Council's ban on the game at the 40 park grounds it controls. Councils and all other public rule-makers should be encouraging kids to play sport, not depriving them of it.

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