Having seen the final part of today’s thrilling Test match play out on the internet and through Twitter, it is quite clear that Test cricket is not dying and is very much alive and well. It received a fanatical following through websites providing live text commentary and on Twitter, from which it is not difficult to see that claims of its untimely, and seemingly unwelcome, death are overestimated.
However, TV pictures of the ground, along with images posted on those very same text commentary streams and social media websites, appeared to suggest otherwise. The New Wanderers Stadium was deserted. All that could be seen was a militant army of grey plastic seats, upturned in their disgust at what was on offer and apparently painting an entirely different picture.
So which tells the truth about the health of the of the purest form of our summer game?
Well in my view the answer to this conundrum is simply that the way we view cricket is changing. Gone are the days when passionate fans would flock to watch matches and huddle under the umbrellas that would have been necessary in Johannesburg today. Instead, today’s fans dip in and out of the action, perhaps while at work, or on their smartphones while out and about, and soak up the action that way. These modern day fans are no less passionate, it is just that, unlike our predecessors, we are in the fortunate position of being able to follow the action in whatever way we choose.
This is where the similarities with English county cricket are startling. It has never had particularly big crowds and those that it did have have dwindled over the past decade or so. However, I would suggest that it has more fans than ever, especially if we are to believe the web traffic data that leading cricket websites routinely espouse. These show that the figures are steadily increasing year on year and prove those luddites that scoff of ‘one man and a dog’ every April to be palpably wrong.
Can the current lack of ground-going fans be altered?
Perhaps, if administrators were to make attending a Test match itself a more convenient and enjoyable experience (day/night cricket anyone?) then things would improve slightly, but it is unlikely to make too much of a difference as it is impossible to stand in the way of a market-led change that sees people power dictate how cricket is ‘consumed’ to an ever greater extent.