It was hot but not unbearable. We arrived at the ground during the first session. After locating the only gate that seemed to be open, we paid a small fee and entered the aged stadium.
Dad and I took our seats in the shade among a spattering of spectators. Some stood at the bar discussing the state of the match while others sat alone with headphones in listening to the radio commentary.
A handful of young patrons could be found braving the heat; hands hanging over the advertising boards eagerly awaiting a well-struck ball. Children played on the grassy banks and yelled out feedback and suggestions to the Victorians in the field.
There couldn’t have been more than two hundred spectators. And while my estimates might be off, the takeaway is: the crowd was small.
Western Australia was in control of the match on the back of a strong bowling performance led by Jason Behrendorff who starred in his return from injury. Despite regular wickets and the lack of a significant individual score, the Warriors lead grew.
The stately nature of the match allowed my mind to wander. How long does Shield Cricket have before the life support is turned off?
The current model is not sustainable and while the WACA provides work for some, like the workhorses manning the scoreboard, the current practice is a financial failure. The revenue from the prosperous Big Bash is undoubtedly propping up state administrations but how much longer before the franchises cut the umbilical cord?
Though money alone is not the point.
Shield cricket is the key to Australia’s strength across all formats. It builds the requisite technique, like a sound defence and consistency of line and length, that isn’t replicated in Twenty20 cricket.
The shorter forms excite and have their place but a model centred around the crash and bash game will cause the calibre of our cricketers to deteriorate.
But what if we took Shield cricket to the suburbs? Imagine matches taking place at local parks around the states. The cost of staffing large grounds would be eliminated and conversely, the local grounds would benefit financially courtesy of bar sales and advertising opportunities.
Residents would flock to these fixtures – only a short walk from home. And even if it was only for the novelty, the ever-changing location of matches will expose the game to different people.
The young and impressionable will have easy access to quality cricket. I’m an avid cricket fan but I was 25 before I went to my first Shield game. I’m sure I’d have experienced a match at a much younger age if the opportunity was a five or ten-minute walk. I’d have slopped on some sunscreen, slapped on a hat and strolled down the road with Dad in tow.
State cricketers would be exposed to different conditions too, forcing them to become masters of adaptability.
The consistency of pitch conditions could be one of the obstacles of the Suburban Shield. How would the ground quality be ensured? Experienced groundskeepers could train the less well versed improving pitches nationwide.
Controls would have to be put in place to prevent vandalism of grounds too.
Would local parks be able to cope with large crowds? is another question that will be answered with time. Parking and restroom options will need to be considered.
But big crowds would be an indication of success. And a fraction of the money that was being used to staff and maintain a big stadium could instead be used to fund things like temporary toilets and seats.
For too long domestic cricket in its longest form has been allowed to plod along with spectator numbers barely outnumbering players and staff. Administrators have known this – and acknowledged it too – but very few changes or trials have been attempted, day-night matches being the exception.
Now is the time for a change; to break through this stubbornness. Shield cricket is terminally ill and the standard treatment isn’t working. The solution, if there is one, lies in doing some experimental.