Slim crowds, critics raise chairman's ire
Tasmanian cricket's chairman Tony Harrison has scoffed at the suggestion that Hobart might be in any danger of losing its share of Australia's home Test matches. He also proffered a slogan in response to media criticism that seems likely to end up on a bumper sticker: "If you don't like Tasmania, don't come here."
Granted the opening match of the series in mid-December before the Boxing Day and New Year's Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, Bellerive Oval has been host to attendances of just 6221 on day one, 3810 on day two and 4388 on day three. This is against Cricket Tasmania's budget estimates of around 9000 on the first day and about 7000 on each of Saturday and Sunday.
Harrison admitted that 23 years after hosting its first Test, also against Sri Lanka in 1989, Tasmania was still to develop a strong "Test match culture", something not helped by the five-day game only making periodic visits to the island state's capital.
Among various mitigating circumstances for the slim turnouts, Harrison cited the fixture's close proximity to Christmas, ticket prices that outstripped those on offer for popular Twenty20 BBL matches at the ground, and Hobart's changeable weather, which was overcast on day one and caused rain breaks on each of days two and three. By way of a concession, Harrison said general admission tickets for Monday's fourth day would allow the bearer to sit in the southern stand, rather than simply to stand on the hill.
However he flatly rejected any potential for the state losing its share of Australia's home Test matches, typically receiving the sixth match of the summer when two touring teams make the journey down under.
"I think that's a ridiculous suggestion quite frankly," Harrison said. "I've heard that said, and that is nonsense. We are one of the owners of Cricket Australia and CA has a philosophy in its programming to spread the game around the country, and Test matches [in Hobart] are not in question, not in doubt.
"There are no guarantees, we don't know what the programme will look like in three, four, five years' time. But at the moment our philosophy is to share the game around the country, to give people around the country the opportunity to see Test cricket. Our job as Cricket Tasmania with CA is to promote the game and get more people to come along to it. That's problematic when you get a fixture so close to Christmas and the weather interferes."
Another issue for Tasmania and Western Australia in particular is the lack of a set position in the calendar for their Test matches. While residents of Melbourne and Sydney know instinctively when to clear room in their calendar for the annual Test, other states have less certainty, something commonly reflected in oscillating crowds depending on the time of year and the touring team.
"We can't always be certain when teams will come and play, but one year we've got a Test match in the second week in November, and the next week it's the third week in December," he said. "So it's not like Sydney and Melbourne where on Boxing Day you know its the Test, doesn't matter who plays, and it's an event. Similarly in Sydney you have the New Year's Test.
"Adelaide doesn't have it always, Perth doesn't have it, Brisbane gets the first Test of the summer but dates vary … so that's an issue too. We need to develop a Test match culture."
As for some unkind depictions of Tasmania on the ABC radio broadcast beamed live around Australia, Harrison was pugnacious. Happy with how the local media had promoted the fixture, he more or less raised the drawbridge to those not expressing great enthusiasm for being in Hobart.
"I should pay tribute to the local media because I don't think the promotion could have done anymore," Harrison said. "But I'm a bit disappointed at some of the comments I've heard on the radio in the last two days, not only critical of the crowds, but they're critical of Tasmania. What I'd say to the commentators who do that, if you don't like Tasmania, don't come here."
Unless Tasmania can find a way of developing a greater affinity for Test matches, there remains a chance that in future years they won't have to.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here