CAPE TOWN - Moeen Ali's recent comments about Test cricket really hit a nerve. Here was a player involved in a record-breaking Ashes series, in terms of spectator numbers, fearing of the future of Test cricket.
“Yeah, (I fear for Tests). I feared in the Ashes actually,” the likeable England all-rounder said. “The crowds were quite disappointing. There were a couple of big days, but even when (Australia) won the Ashes there weren’t that many celebrating. That’s when I thought, ‘Actually, we’re struggling a bit.’
“We’re very lucky in England. After being all around the world and seeing the crowds everywhere else, we’ve got the best fans, we’ve got full houses most of the time. I feel fortunate in that way.
“It is a worry. Test cricket is the pinnacle. It is, in my opinion, where the best players play. You can really see who is the best. It’s been a worry for a while but Australia really opened my eyes.”
Perhaps England’s Media Liaison should have advised Moeen that in fact 866 732 fans flocked to the five Ashes Tests, with nearly 200,000 attending the first-ever men’s day-night Ashes Test, while 2.1 million national viewers tuned in to watch the third session of day two in Adelaide.
And on day one of the fourth Test, 88 172 fans filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground with 252,672 fans attending the only drawn match of the summer as part of the second largest crowd of a Boxing Day Test.
But be that as it may, the fact that Moeen felt the need to express his views in this manner is the concerning factor. And even more so if you tuned into the first day of the series between South Africa and Australia in Durban on Thursday.
The Proteas and Aussies are the No 2 and No 3 ranked Test teams in the world, but yet the empty green seats at Kingsmead resembled a Sunfoil Series fixture rather than a battle between the two of the premier Test nations in the world.
While I accept that the there has been a general decline in spectators at Test cricket throughout the world, I simply cannot accept the notion that “it has been going on for years” and that “it is a work day” as excuses. Test cricket gets played on “work days” in other countries too. I have been in Australia and New Zealand where people travel far distances just to come watch a single day of Test cricket when the Proteas were in town.
With Australia having last played a Test at Kingsmead in 2009 - 9 years ago - was it not possible for the people of Durban to put in 2 days leave to come and watch high quality Test cricket?? #justasking #SAvAus #SABCcricket #sscricket @whamzam17 @KassNaidoo pic.twitter.com/GZby5CZRS9
A day at Test cricket remains an “occasion” for these cricket-loving spectators, worthy of putting in a couple of days of annual leave to watch the likes of South Africa’s pace spearhead Kagiso Rabada going head-to-head with the World’s No 1 Test batsman Steve Smith.
People have more choices these days I keep getting told. You can’t dictate what people must do with their time or money. All of this is understandable. But it just brings me to the realisation that cricket - especially the Test version of the game - isn’t that high on the priority list of most South Africans.
My fear is that we are fast approaching the point where a glorious group of Proteas are exiting the international stage. This is already Morne Morkel’s last Test series.
Equally, this could easily also be the last time AB de Villiers - a talent so rare we may not see his ilk for another decade or so - locks horns with the famed foe Australia in a Test series. Watching giants like these is worth your ticket money alone.
Former Australian wicket-keeper and selection convenor Rod Marsh hit the nail on the head in his 2015 MCC Cowdrey lecture.
“How can the Test match crowds in South Africa be so poor?” Marsh asked. “They have a magnificent team with arguably the best fast bowler in the world and possibly the best batsman in the world.
"Yet no one goes to watch them play at home. Come on you guys, get active, there will be a time when your product isn’t that good and you’ll struggle to exist.”
What’s going to happen when they are all gone? How many people will then come through the turnstiles?