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Years ago during the protracted courtship of my wife, I tried to impress her by saying I wrote for Australian magazine Inside Cricket. After snorting sauvignon blanc out of her nose, she laughed and said: "Inside Cricket? I'd rather be inside hell!" And while it wasn't the reaction I'd wanted, at least I got a laugh. And today we have three children. And here we are.
Yet her sentiment was not unexpected. Because even in sports-loving Australia, with cricket the national sport, there are people (if you can believe it) who don't like cricket. It's not uncommon. For many people - let's call many of them "women" - cricket is boring, incomprehensible, ubiquitous, and completely pointless. (Of course many of these same discerning viewers will settle in for a marathon of Kardashians shopping for breast pumps. But there you go - to each his and/or her own.)
Now, my wife and I, like the Ghostbusters, are quite happy not to cross the streams. She'll watch her famous, rich, screeching-idiot Americans. I'll head to the SCG and drink beer. And there are two winners.
But cricket - at least Australian cricket - wants women. And is luring more each year. And not just on Jane McGrath Day when everyone wears pink to honour the fast bowler's late, great wife. There are lots of girls who'll head to the cricket. And lots who like and understand it.
But cricket has a way to go.
For one, it's on too much. Cricket in Australia is ubiquitous from September through March. It dominates the summer. It's like the one game running for six months. They change the colour of the clothes, but it's become wallpaper. It's just… on.
I had a yarn with boxer Kostya Tszyu once, and asked the then-lightweight world champion what he thought of cricket. The little man had been in Australia for several years from his native Russia, and had met Shane Warne and Steve Waugh and a few others. But even with these guys as mentors, he said: "Oh, this game. I try to understand it. But it is on, like, all the time. I never know when one game begin and another one end."
This was ten years ago.
Today you can watch: Tests, ODIs, T20Is, Big Bash, Sheffield Shield and domestic one-dayers. Now and again they bring out old men to play on the beach for a beer company. And obviously there's a market for it. But here's the thing: You watch that much cricket, as the Pope would tell you, you'll go blind.
Surely cricket can have champagne bars. And boys in suits. And girls can learn to love the game and understand that you don't actually "watch" every ball
"Pointless"? Some is. What is the point of two five-match 50-over series that follow Test matches? Why did West Indies play five ODIs in Australia after Test series with South Africa and Sri Lanka? Apart from for the money?
Look, administrators, depending who's coming, and their chances of filling the Gabba and the WACA and the SCG, do this: play one Twenty20 followed by three ODIs, and then three or five Tests depending on the strength of the incoming mob. You have apertif, entree, main. Or maybe even brush aside the ODIs. Or have three T20s and one ODI. I dunno. But not too much, okay?
Tests? If the incoming country is in the top-four of ICC Test rankings - say, England, India or South Africa - play them for five Tests. If they are lower than that - say, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh - play three.
This is not hard.
As for attracting women to the games, it's not as hard as one might think. In spring and autumn, Australian race-tracks are filled with young women who go along to dress up and drink champagne, and have a bet on a horse and a laugh with their friends. They go to flirt and look at boys in suits. And it's all good. They spend a bunch of money and everyone's happy.
Surely cricket can have champagne bars. And boys in suits. And girls can learn to love the game and understand that you don't actually "watch" every ball or every movement on the field, because there's often not much going on and you would go blind.
As experienced cricket-watchers would tell them - and as the makers of Carlton Draught know, I'm one - watching cricket, especially Test cricket, is like slow food. It's more than the sum of its parts. It's about people, and connecting, and having a laugh. Watching cricket that is sporadically leap-off-your-seat exciting, contains often compelling storylines, and is a chance to drink beer with your friends. And that is good.
The rest of it, all the "tea", the "sessions", the square legs and silly points… that'll come. But get them along on the pretext of enjoyment with friends and love of the game might come. Or it might not. But you'll still have sold them a glass of sav blanc. Whether they snort it out their nose is their lookout.
Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets hereFeeds: Matt Cleary
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Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary