Yesterday at the MCG, Australia and South Africa played a great One Day cricket match.
It was everything the game should be - good batting, bowling and fielding (with some bad examples of each thrown in). The match ebbed and flowed, and in the end South Africa won with 3 balls to spare.
And bugger all were there to watch it.
Only 39,371 people turned up to watch. By contrast, last week 62,148 people went along to watch the same two sides play a meaningless Twenty 20 game. To give the poor attendance further context, the attendance figures for the first three days of the Boxing Day Test Match at the same ground were 63,263, 42,814 and 42,079.
Now all of these figures have nothing to do with the standard of play. They have nothing to do with the players' feelings. They have nothing to do with what was on the line. The Twenty 20 game was (as is often the case) one-sided and the result was decided long before the last South African batsman was out.
But the people don't care. They like the Twenty 20 version of the game.
The players obviously care more about the one day game than the Twenty20 version - and I know this is true because last night as Nathan Bracken bowled his final over the commentators were unable to talk to him on his radio microphone. In the Twenty20 match, he was telling them what type of delivery he was going to bowl as he ran in to do so.
But so what? People like the Twenty20 version of the game.
William Goldman when writing about the success of Titanic versus the lack of success of The Postman rather pithily said that Titanic was a success because people wanted to see it; they didn't want to see The Postman. What he meant of course is that both were well made films, done by professionals with equal amounts of good and bad acting, editing, cinematography etc.
So too with cricket. Both Twenty20 and One Day cricket have good and bad batting, bowling and fielding, and also as many close matches as the other (I suspect). But people like the Twenty20 version.
The reason is obvious - the time. Watching a whole one day game is a big effort - it's 100 overs (which is 10 more overs than you get to watch in a standard day of test cricket) - whereas the Twenty20 version is done and dusted in just over 3 hours.
The great things about footy (either AFL, Rugby, Soccer, NRL) is that it's done in a short time. You can do things in the morning, go watch the game in the afternoon, and still be able to do something that evening. Or conversely if it is a night game, you know you have the whole day before the match starts.
Test and One Day cricket on the other hand wipes out the whole day - even the day-night games. It's a big ask, and one that the public seem less likely to bother accepting - especially when everyone knows that no one really cares who wins, except when it comes to the World Cup.
One Day cricket came about to spice up the game and make it palatable to fans who found test cricket too boring. They did it by shortening the game from 5 days to 1 day. All Twenty20 has done is continued the process 100 overs to 40, or 8 hours to 3 hours.
And as much as I find the game pointless, I have to admit that when I went along to watch South Australia play a couple Twenty20 games in Adelaide this month, I thought they were a good night's entertainment. The games mattered - unlike the international version, the teams seem to actually care about losing - and the game was short enough that my 5 year old daughter was able to come along and not be bored, and in fact wants to go again.
The crucial aspect for the game is of course the Indian money for IPL. When a guy who can't get a game for his state Sheffield Shield team is able to earn a good living by getting drafted by an IPL team, you know the die is cast.
Look for more and more players to be professional Twenty20 players - I believe the real beneficiaries of this will be West Indian players, who in their teens will see that money can be made playing cricket rather than having to switch to playing basketball or baseball - and look also for the first players to retire from test cricket but keep playing Twenty20 much like soccer players now do. Indeed Matthew Hayden will be making a nice little earner for himself in India this year along with other 'retired' players like Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.
But they retired after long careers playing test cricket. I expect future players to forgo the bother of trying to get into a test team - especially if you can earn half a million playing in India. And why should we expect any different? Just look at the players who gave up playing the Grand Slam tournaments in the 1950s and 1960s so they could play professional tennis.
Sportsmen follow the money just like everyone else does. Would you stay teaching at a nice staid old private school if a new school down the road offered you twice the salary to work there? Would you care that the school doesn't have an "old school tie" and great alumni?
I doubt it. And were I a 14 year old cricket player, I would be thinking about how much I could earn in India (Test cricket would be great, but if I can't do that then...). And so I would work on being able to hit balls for six, learning how to manufacture runs with unorthodox shots. Building a solid back defence? Learning how to leave balls? Bugger that, grandpa. 40 runs off 20 balls is better than 50 runs off 100. Especially if the first will allow me to retire at 35, and the second might find me playing district cricket and maybe one or two shield games.
So what to do?
I'll come back to that another day, but Rule Number 1 for Cricket Australia is to make the players and Channel 9 treat Twenty 20 like a sport where the result matters. Exhibition games are just fads that lose the public's interest - so they need to ditch the players wearing microphones; it just screams "I don't give a stuff".
And if Cricket Australia wants the international games to be exhibitions then that is all well and good, but then they need to treat the domestic version more seriously - go the IPL route, or at least have all test players available to play.
Twenty20 can either be a version of cricket that prospers, or a fad that ultimately dies out, having also killed off the one day game as well.
At the moment Cricket Australia are treating it like a fad.