With local T20 Big Bash crowd figures now competing with ground attendance figures for global sporting events, the chatter in Australian cricket circles is around whether this is the beginning of the end for Test cricket, or whether it might drive a new audience to the long-form game.
I remain sceptical that T20 has the substance to migrate people to Test cricket. The reverse might indeed be true - I know a number of diehard Test fans who have embraced the Big Bash with gusto, possibly because their love of the game transcends the format, but I remain unconvinced that the traffic flow will ever be a two-way street.
Chatting to my 12-year-old son each morning as I drove him to the National Schoolboy Under-13 Carnival in Brisbane a week ago was illuminating. His team-mates and opponents will possibly be the future of Australian cricket in less than a decade. Perhaps due to the timing of the season, parents and children alike were utterly oblivious to Test cricket (anywhere in the world), while being consumed by the travelling circus of the Big Bash. There is no doubt that a poor West Indies team exacerbated this shift in interest, but it was interesting to be party to conversations where it became clear that especially for those families just being introduced to cricket, via their sons, the Big Bash was the only meal on the menu.
One mother described it using a culinary analogy: minimum preparation time, tasty but maybe not super-healthy, and no washing up. Not exactly filling, so on double-header nights, we're ready to eat again an hour later.
That food analogy can be extended. To a person, child and adult, they all agreed that if you were brought up on hamburgers and chips, it is highly unlikely that you will choose fine-dining options on the menu. It is entirely feasible that a more discerning palate will happily trade down to hamburgers for convenience and cost, but you usually don't move up to haute cuisine. Brand loyalty to any particular fast-food chain was non-existent; if it's fast, fun and comes with fries (loud music and the other T20 match-day promotions), upsize me please.
I fear the main negative legacy from the spread of T20 will be the extinction of the genuine super-fast bowler from Test cricket. Protecting their bodies by bowling just four overs at full throttle must surely be a more viable career choice
Some of the cricket on display in the Big Bash has been stunningly skilful, especially the "bash" part! That is not a criticism in any way. The cricket on offer in T20 leagues merely delivers on a core product attribute in much the same way that the attraction of fast food is often a literal thing - the fact that it's fast. It is easy to understand why Cricket Australia is unapologetic about marketing it to new audiences rather than stressing about migrating existing Test cricket followers to this new platform. Of course fans of the longer game are welcome, but they are not the target market.
Within the T20 menu, there is scope for the gourmet burger option. Many of these new fans will happily upgrade their tastes within the genre. It will be more refined, bordering on posh, but the product retains its essence. Who says you can't enjoy vintage wines in a greasy fast-food joint? When you have classics like Jacques Kallis, Mike Hussey, Mahela Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara on the wine list, it can no longer be written off as cheap plonk.
I remain unconvinced that Cricket Australia will ever convince these diners to move to a three-course white-linen service with names like Brathwaite, Holder and Roach as entrees, despite the sublime, lingering aftertaste of a Kane Williamson dessert wine.
On the downside, I fear the main negative legacy from the spread of T20 will be the extinction of the genuine super-fast bowler from Test cricket. That rare breed will increasingly ply their trade in the short game because of the physical rigours of trying to bowl at express pace for long spells. Protecting their bodies (and earning potential) by bowling just four overs at full throttle must surely be a more viable career choice.
None of the talk this week among the 12-year-olds was about the baggy green. They were consumed by representing a BBL franchise one day. Another junior representative carnival being run across town had the kids playing 50-over games in the qualifying rounds and then T20 games in the finals. What does that say about priorities?
For families new to cricket, T20 is the perfect product. All the fun and excitement without having to wait for the slow cooker. Our team dinner last week was held at a fancy burger joint. The kids loved the posh nosh, the parents loved the price tag, and home in time to watch George Bailey and Steve Smith carve up the Indians. I ask my son which burger he chose. "Can't remember, Dad, but can I please grab a snack from the fridge? I'm still hungry."
I cast my mind back a month - AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis trying desperately to save a Test in New Delhi. Less than one run per over. I was spellbound for hours, watching their soft hands and the subtle angles employed by Ravi Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja to deceive them. At day's end, I could not contemplate watching any more cricket on pay TV. I needed to digest that slow-cooked meal. Sometimes, less is more. But it won't sell.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane