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Forget knocking down the Gabba, we'll be lucky if anyone notices our January test

Opinion

Strap yourself in. In any given week this summer, the most ardent of cricket fans may forget about watching Test cricket and simply gorge on some frantic Big Bash action, writes Jim Tucker

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The summer of cricket has never been more condensed, crowded and full of head-spinning overlaps and contradictions.

It’s the way scheduling has been heading for years for the simple fact Australia is no longer in charge of all the pieces. The season is a jigsaw of how to fit international touring sides, how to balance commitments overseas and how to give the Big Bash the best window to shine with the best players.

You have to accept it as Cricket Australia’s best effort even if Queensland cricket fans have already dealt with one of the biggest flips of tradition.

There is no Gabba Test to open the summer. The annual Test is still six weeks away when the West Indies visit for a day-night Test on January 25-29.

The summer officially opened with the Big Bash clash on Thursday night. More than 20,000 happy fans welcomed live cricket at the Gabba and they got their money’s worth with the Brisbane Heat’s best first-up display in memory.

Notoriously slow starters to the BBL, the Heat pounded the Melbourne Stars by 103 runs like they were on the eve of the finals already.

Kiwi import Colin Munro swatted a fine 99 not out with the bat but it was bowlers Mitch Swepson (3-23), Michael Neser (2-30) and Xavier Bartlett (2-8) who turned it into a rout.

Stars star Glenn Maxwell (23) was only at the crease for 14 balls but the record-breaking hero of Australia’s one-day World Cup triumph in India captivated the audience for that brief period.

His 2-4-4-6-4 assault, to take 20 runs off paceman Spencer Johnson’s first over, was mesmerising. There were pulls, a back away straight drive, a flick to fine leg for six and a crowd on the edge of their seats. His mastery of footwork was not needing any at times.

Were the fans witnessing another whiz-bang century to create a win from nowhere? No, it turned out. A reverse sweep off leggie Swepson brought him undone.

Maxwell is the interesting case. There is no more watchable cricketer in Australia at present. He is BBL-only through December and January while Australia’s red-ball types are playing five Tests.

The master schedulers are giving the Australia v Pakistan Test in Perth from next Thursday free air to thrive with no cricket competition.

Come the second Test, from Boxing Day at the MCG, and it’s the opposite. BBL games will start almost as the last ball is bowled on every day of that December 26-30 Test.

Boxing Day itself is a cricket marathon of more than 11 hours if you want to watch the Test cricket plus back-to-back BBL fixtures on TV from Sydney and Perth. There’ll be time for a backyard game at home somewhere in that feast of cricket, cricket, cricket.

Maxwell’s Stars play the Sydney Sixers on Boxing Day at the SCG. Will there be more eyeballs on him than David Warner squeezing the last few drops from his storied Test career? Most viewers will devour both because the Boxing Day Test is the national day for armchair cricket watching.

Thankfully, someone listened to the fan base who kept roaring that the BBL went too long and a final when kids were back at school was a fizzer.

Mercifully, we are back to a streamlined 40-game season with the four finals matches slated for the January 19-24 period.

Again, our cricket brains will have to change gears suddenly. We’ll be watching white balls and coloured clothes for that finale before being thrown straight into the Windies Test on January 25 with a pink ball and white clothes for the day-night Test at the Gabba.

There’s no such thing these days as focussing a marketing campaign on elevating a singular contest as cricket’s high point. Let’s create as much all-sorts cricket as we can and the fan can chomp away at what they like.

The Windies have been whittling away at their brand for decades since their world champion days because 8th on the last rankings for the ICC World Test Championship 2021-23 is a sad fall.

The timing of the BBL climax is something of a safeguard for late January should the Test be a fizzer. Remember, we’ll also be in the post-David Warner era as a Test team by then.

Love him or hate him and there are few fence-sitters, Warner is the focus of the next month until the final thrashed cut, drive or pull of his SCG Test farewell against Pakistan (January 3-7).

Few players get to nominate their farewell Test as far in advance as he did. It very much seems like he’ll be getting his wish barring a pair in both Perth and Melbourne against Pakistan.

Now that he has figuratively pointed to the stands like slugger Babe Ruth once did to nominate where he would deposit a pitch, Warner’s script demands he perform.

He needs a 50 against Pakistan in Perth to keep at bay critics who will rage that this farewell stretch is a joke. He needs a century before the SCG to validate his timeline.

Either way, if you think you’ve devoured enough of him to last a lifetime, the David Warner degustation is only just beginning. Remember, there’ll always be a BBL game on a channel somewhere if you need the distraction.

JIM TUCKER has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media.

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