The results are in, and it doesn’t look good; Test cricket is dying. Gina Baldassarre reports.
This is the diagnosis given by most cricket commentators, journalists, and former players as the excitement and colour of Twenty/20 cricket overtakes our screens, while Test grounds around the world sit empty.
However, two relatively fresh cricket journalists are looking into the Test format’s widely accepted fate and seeing if there’s anything left to be done.
Jarrod Kimber and Sampson Collins, creators of the YouTube series The Chuck Fleetwood Smiths for ESPN’s Cricinfo, are hard at work on a documentary on the state of Test cricket, tentatively titled Death of a Gentleman.
The pair is interviewing members of the cricket media, past and present players, fans, and administrators and officials of the game around the world to find out how cricket got to this point, and if there’s any chance to save the sport they grew up loving.
As great fans of the game themselves, their motivation in making the film is clear.
“We thought someone had to look into how this olde-world sport had become an awfully-run business. It was probably a bit naive of us to think that we could make a film about Test Cricket, but we figured that someone had to look into the game. It’s as surprising to us as it is others that we became those guys,” Kimber says.
While travelling the globe to watch and report on all three cricket formats, Kimber says that they have seen first hand how Test Cricket is barely promoted, badly administered, and broadly ignored.
“We wanted to know who was looking after the game, who was holding it back and who was blinded by the easy money of the other two forms of the game. The sport of cricket matters to us, and because of that we grabbed some cameras and a small crew, and started looking into it,” Kimber says.
He doesn’t believe that the root of the problem is as clear-cut as many in the cricket world would have us believe – audiences aren’t simply just falling out of love with Test cricket in favour of the shorter formats of the game in accordance with the Australian Test team’s rise and fall.
“It wasn’t that long ago that Australians were supposedly bored of Test Cricket because we were too good at it, then a couple of years later we were over it because we weren’t that good at it,” Kimber says.
“This year the MCG has hosted three big cricket events. 70,000 went to Boxing Day for a Test, 62,000 visited for a T20 and 29,000 turned up for a One Dayer.”
Widely acknowledged as one of Australian Test cricket’s biggest problems is Cricket Australia’s inability to successfully market the format.
Pointing to this summer’s cricket as an example, Kimber explains, “The Big Bash was on every bus, bridge or billboard the country over, and people tuned in to watch it.
“Good Test Cricket is more exciting and involves better players and yet has never been marketed that aggressively. Test Cricket is propped up by the fact that non-cricket fans turn up to Boxing Day and for the New Years Test because it’s a thing to do.”
“Instead of enhancing its established reputation and popularity, no one in world cricket understands how to market Tests, so they usually don’t bother.”
As independent, first-time filmmakers, Kimber and Collins haven’t had an easy ride on the way to financing ‘Death of a Gentleman’. The pair managed to make their way down under to film during Australia’s summer against India thanks to help of investors in the UK.
Now that they have trailers and an interview cast boasting the likes of Rahul Dravid, Steve Waugh, and Ian Chappell to show for the money, they’ve decided to make the most of their online following, and have turned to the internet for fundraising.
Kimber believes the general reaction to what they’ve made of the film so far has been positive, particularly considering the light-hearted nature of The Chuck Fleetwood Smiths.
“It’s a huge topic, and we are known mostly for having a lion suit and making fun of cricketers on our show,” he says.
“When we talked to cricket writer Malcolm Conn about the state of the game, he remarked at the end that he was surprised by the interview, as he’d always thought we were just five-minute piss artists.”