Australia cantered to an eight-wicket win over West Indies on Friday but the talk was all about how sparse the MCG crowd was. The Aussies registered a dominant victory in their first ODI since winning the World Cup Final, making light work of an understrength Windies unit, securing victory with 69 balls to spare.
However, the crowd on Friday was barren as only 16,342 people came to watch the World Cup-winning side's return to action and it looked more like Covid restrictions were still in place. The crowd comfortably bettered the record-low turnout of 10,406 in November 2022 but it was still well below the 20,000-plus crowd expected by Cricket Australia. When the game got underway at 2.30pm there were less than 6,000 fans inside the stadium.
While much has been made of the low crowds in Test cricket, the sparse ODI turnout shows cricket's issues span across multiple forms of the game. Following the Cricket World Cup, many had hoped the 50-over format was back, with ICC chief executive officer, Anurag Dahiya, telling Reuters after the competition, that the struggles of the ODI form had been "grossly exaggerated".
"The news of the demise of ODI cricket has been grossly exaggerated," Dahiya said. "We can clearly say that with what we have seen in the last month."
But the cricket hype died almost immediately with Michael Vaughan hypothesising that the issue with cricket crowds boils down to just having too many games. "It doesn't right with me that the two finalists four days later will start a T20 series against each other," former England skipper Michael Vaughan said on Twitter.
"Why can't we allow players the chance to have a moment's rest after a WC (World Cup) or whoever wins the chance to celebrate properly for a couple of weeks?" It's complete greed and overkill."
And on Friday the crowds once again returned to being poor, with social media up in arms about how it is a terrible look for the sport. An ODI on a Friday in early February against a second-string West Indies side was always going to be a tough sell but the crowd was still much lower than anticipated.
Cricket Australia has missed the mark here... (again)
The very first ODI that we host after winning the WC, they schedule at the biggest venue on a Friday once school holidays is over and everyone is back at work.
Scheduling has to be better. Sad looking at the crowd at the MCG
— Josh Rickard (@JRickard1991) February 2, 2024
Imagine telling someone in the 1990s that an Australia v WI ODI at the mighty MCG would get this crowd 😅😅 https://t.co/Fz7rNSlBfG
— Wicky (@wickyai) February 2, 2024
Crowd at MCG was 5933 when game started at 2:30 #AusvsWI
— Michael Robinson (@ozrobbo) February 2, 2024
— Sai Kiran (@sk_kiran16) February 2, 2024
Is Melbourne in lockdown again? Looks to be no crowd at the MCG #AUSvWI
— Patrick Flaherty (@flaherty_p) February 2, 2024
West Indies humbled as Xavier Bartlett shines on debut
The West Indies were optimistic heading into the first ODI after their epic Test win but they were toothless on Friday. Following the match Shai Hope said the performance was confronting and admitted his side didn't show enough fight.
"We probably need to show a bit more intent and just be up for the fight," Hope said. "We’re playing in their backyard, they’re not going to just roll over and allow us to score freely and win games."
Australia only fielded five players from the XI that won the World Cup final, including the first-choice pace trio of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. But it was 25-year-old debutant, Xavier Bartlett, who shone.
Called into the squad after Jhye Richardson and Nathan Ellis were ruled out with injury, Barlett stepped up with 4-17, off nine overs. It was the second-best return by an Australian male on ODI debut, bettered only by quick-turned-selector Tony Dodemaide, who claimed 5-21 against Sri Lanka 36 years ago.
Ironically it was Dodemaide who informed Bartlett earlier this week he would become Australia's 244th male ODI player. "It definitely eases the nerves to get that first wicket out of the way and to get it down with a decent ball’s always nice," Bartlett said. "(You) just want to get the first ball out of the way and, hopefully, it’s not five wides."
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