The Australian public's lack of love for the national cricket team has once again been laid bare on the opening day of the first Test against the West Indies. Officials are copping it over the baffling decision to kick-off the Test summer on a Wednesday, with only a smattering of fans in attendance for the first ball at Optus Stadium.
Australian cricket officials have been dealing with a number of poor crowds in recent weeks, with just over 10,000 fans attending the third ODI against England at the MCG. It marked the smallest crowd ever at the venue for an ODI.
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And unfortunately there was more of the same on Wednesday, with vast swathes of empty seats greeting the players at Optus Stadium. There were only a few thousand spectators watching the action as Australia won the toss and opted to bat first.
The West Indies aren't notoriously known for pulling Test cricket crowds, and the majority of the Australian public would have been at work or school on Wednesday morning. Some of social media questioned why officials would choose Wednesday for the start of the Test summer given the match might be over by the time the weekend comes around and the crowds can roll in more freely.
"I can’t remember a more underwhelming build up to the 1st test of the summer," journalist Mark Gottlieb wrote on Twitter. "I don’t know if there’s been too much cricket with the World Cup, if the team is on the nose, if it’s because it’s in Perth or any number of reasons but I suspect the crowd and ratings will be low."
Some have suggested the Aussie team is out of favour with the cricket public due to the way in which Justin Langer departed as coach. However former Test captain Steve Waugh thinks the poor crowds are due to an overload of meaningless matches.
"There's a lot of cricket, it's hard to follow as a spectator, it's very hard to keep up with it," Waugh said on SEN radio. "The three one-dayers against England seemed pretty insignificant, really. I mean, what were they playing for? There wasn't big crowds, I think the public has almost overdosed on cricket."
Waugh also suggested the fact that Australia has separate teams for Tests, ODIs and T20s is confusing for fans who want some familiarity. "You want the special series to be iconic, like the Ashes, and against India when they come out here," he said. "It's hard to follow the Australian side because every time they play they have a different team on the field. For the fans and spectators, it is hard to make a connection because you're not sure who is playing.
"I don't know if it's anyone's fault but you need that consistency in the Australian side. You want to know who's in the squad every game, you want to be following it closely and it's really hard to do that right now."
Aussies bat first against West Indies in Perth
Captain Pat Cummins showed no hesitation to bat first on Wednesday despite an Optus Stadium wicket with plenty of grass left on to counteract the heat. Australia have stuck with their regular XI, with Josh Hazlewood returning to the side after an injury-interrupted 2021-22 followed by stints on the sideline on the sub-continent.
The Perth Test marks the first of nine for Australia in the space of three months at home and in India, as they push for a spot in the World Test Championship final.
"There might be a little bit in (the wicket), but we're going to back our batters in," Cummins said at the toss. "Every series is big, but this has an extra carrot for us (with the Test Championship). We missed out last time, and hopefully with a few more wins we'll secure our spot."
The match got off to a horror start for Australia, with David Warner dismissed for just five. It continued a poor run of form for the prolific opener and will increase scrutiny on his place in the Test side.
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