Australia star Glenn McGrath believes the sight of a nearly deserted Melbourne Cricket Ground during England’s recent ODI series will ring alarm bells for the future of the format.
Just over 4,000 fans poured into the massive MCG for the last of three 50-over matches between the old rivals, leaving huge swathes of the venue completely empty.
Just nine days earlier, over 80,000 spectators watched England’s T20 World Cup win over Pakistan at the same stadium, uniting players, fans and pundits in their criticism of the schedule.
But McGrath, a three-time world champion in ODI cricket, believes the problem runs deeper than a poorly planned series and says serious consideration needs to be given to avoid the format being permanently ejected from the calendar.
“It was so disappointing to see such crowds, ODIs are really under pressure at the moment,” he told the PA news agency from his home in Queensland.
“Melbourne is considered the sporting capital of Australia if not the world, they absolutely love their sport. So, for them to show up in the numbers they’ve reached speaks volumes about where we are.
“Those in power really need to be careful not to just make games, games that count for nothing. The international schedule is tough enough. I think they have to respect every series and every game, it has to mean something.
“We have to protect the game. T20 Cricket is constantly growing, it’s fast, fast and exciting and Test Cricket really is the ultimate. I think these two formats will stand the test of time.
“I hope ODI Cricket continues, I have a lot of great memories from it and I would still rank the ODI World Cup as more important than the T20. But the format is under pressure and we have to look at how to get people to come to these games.”
McGrath returns to England next spring for a theatrical tour with Test Match Special commentator partner Jonathan Agnew, paving the way for a big Ashes summer in 2023.
The 52-year-old routinely predicts a 5-0 win for Australia, but while they came close to winning Down Under last winter, he expects a much more competitive England side after a major makeover under Brendon McCullum.
“I love coming to the UK it’s always amazing how many English people come up to me and say ‘I used to hate you passionately when you were playing but now you’re retired you’re OK'” , he said.
“I take that as a compliment. There’s a bit of mutual respect and fun. I’m not sure what happened in the last ashes, but it wasn’t good. England didn’t even show up.
“But this time it will be different. With Baz McCullum on board, Ben Stokes as captain and Joe Root just getting to play, they’re a lot more positive.
“They support each other really well and when it works out it’s amazing. I think Australia could even learn a lesson and just go out there and support themselves.”
::Test Match Special Live – The Ashes Special, starring Jonathan Agnew and Glenn McGrath, is touring the UK starting April 5th. For tickets and venue information visit www.fane.co.uk/TMS.