Monday 19 March 2018 / 11:38 AM

World Cup a free-to-air ghost town

Well, that’s it for the pool stage – we’re into the knockouts…

You know, the ICC Cricket World Cup? The one that’s being played right here, Down Under, and across the ditch?

Forgive me.

With the lack of tournament coverage on free to air TV, it would be easy to think Australia had just played an eclectic bunch of games against randomised opposition over an elongated period.  

Let me fill you in.

The first ever World Cup double ton … Chris Gayle, 215 off 147? Tim Southee obliterating  the Poms with a spell of 7-33? Afghanistan’s historic victory against the Scots?

And, England?

Ok, you might’ve heard about England. But the point remains, there’s a World Cup underway, and if you’re one of the majority of Australians who don’t subscribe to pay TV, you’re forgiven for not knowing.

TV broadcasting deals between the ICC, Cricket Australia and the networks have resulted in a maximum 10 out of 49 matches being televised on Channel Nine.  

Yes, Australia’s six group stage games plus their possible quarter final, the two semi-finals, and the final.

Like a selfish big brother who won’t let you choose the channel, Foxtel and the ICC’s international partner Star Sports hold the rights to all the rest.

With every game of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil played live on SBS, and every scrap of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in Britain shown live on 7mate, it’s hard to comprehend the current situation.

For a sport that claims to be our national game, Cricket Australia appears to have dropped an absolute sitter.

The World Cup is special in that it brings cricket’s global community together once every four years. It’s a rare spectacle involving a sport widely cherished.

The inclusion of associate nations, like Afghanistan, Scotland and the UAE, is part of its magic.

Despite the regular blowout defeats at the hands of full ICC members, the inclusion of the minnows often provides powerful games, and moments nowadays rarely seen.

And it’s not just the little guys.

The clashes between the heavyweights that tune themselves specifically for the tournament are also sorely missed.

India versus Pakistan on February 15 was reportedly the most-watched televised game in cricket history. But in Australia, if you’re one of the estimated quarter of the population who subscribe to pay TV, you may be one of the lucky ones who caught an eyeful.

To have a rare World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and to not have these spectacles available on free to air viewing platforms, almost defeats the purpose.

Australians have seen Australia play.

Free to air has just brought us four Tests against India, the Big Bash, and another triangular ODI competition in preparation for the biggest tournament of the year.

But despite all those games being glorified curtain-raisers for the big show, the irony is, on home soil, the big show can barely be seen.

With the rise of ratings and financial pressure on Australia’s free to air networks, it’s understandable that not every game could be shown. Channel Nine knows games involving Australia are surefire bets with the punters, and clearly doesn’t want to pay the money or risk the programming imbalance to show any more. Despite Nine’s three-channeled platform, with the rise of T20, the lure of ODI cricket appears to be fading. The lengthy day-night platform can be a long haul for viewers, and too much of a risk – whatever the channel.

It’s a sad state of affairs, however, when not even a selection could be viewed.

How disappointing for Australian cricket fans, and more importantly for those who aren’t yet compelled by the game, to not be able to take part in a televised World Cup experience that’s happening in our backyard.

As we get to the pointy end of the competition, and the crunch matches come thick and fast, the issue will dissipate as the contest finally reaches our screens.

However, by that stage an integral section of the tournament will have passed a large section of Australia’s viewing audience by, and in doing so, removing a key ingredient of the competition.

Due to the lack of free to air coverage the tournament has floated by in the background, the majority of Australians glancing at articles in newspapers and watching snippets on their nightly news.

By better utilizing the powerful medium of TV, the 2015 Cricket World Cup could have could have been more in the forefront of our minds as the finals appear in a haze out of the abyss.

It’s like listening to fireworks while you’re lying in bed: you can hear they’re exploding close by, you just can’t see the damned things. But, with the end of the pool stage – yes, the pool stage – the curtain might blow open, providing a quick glimpse of the colours and explosions.  

You might catch the finale – but with a show that good, you’ll be left wondering why you didn’t get to see it from start.

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Billy Vickers

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