There has been a lot said and written about Australia’s “bore-draw” game-plan during the Women’s Ashes Test – were they just being “professional”? Or should they have tried to contrive an exciting result for the benefit of the fans?
Aussie coach Matthew Mott was vigorous in his defence, telling the media post-match “We’re not a charity!” and @aotearoaxi spoke for many when he said on Twitter: “[Mott] coaches an elite team who is judged on results – anything else is a bonus.”
But even Mott implicitly accepted the dilemma, admitting: “There’s always a responsibility to the fans.”
It is certainly easy to argue for a “result” from the press gallery or commentary box; and it isn’t just English “sour grapes” either – several Australians, including Mary Konstantopoulos and Brittany Carter from the Ladies Who Legspin podcast, and The Guardian’s Geoff Lemon – expressed disappointment that the Aussies didn’t put on more of a show.
Some of the disappointment in the press box stems from the disconnect between words and actions. After the 3rd ODI, I asked Ellyse Perry about the Southern Stars tactics going into the Test, and she had this to say (emphasis ours):
“These Test matches come around once every couple of years and I think it is a big responsibility for all players to play it in a really great spirit and in a way that is entertaining because I’d love to play more of them, and I think there is scope to play this kind of format series against some of the other top teams in the world, but to do that we’ve got to do the Test match justice.”
And that is not what we really saw, certainly in the final sessions of the last day.
On the other hand, say Meg Lanning had declared at a point where England would have “gone for it” and lost? She’d have been torn to pieces by the media and the fans – at least the Australian ones – who would have given her little credit for “doing the Test match justice”.
It comes down to the contradiction at the heart of professional sport – the job of the players and the coaches is to win; but the job of the sport as a whole is to entertain – if no fans turn on their TVs or come through the gates, ultimately the sport dies and the players and coaches don’t get paid!
The sporting reality is that players are paid to win; but the commercial reality is that if they don’t also entertain, they don’t get paid at all – and this may be what we have seen this summer, with slightly disappointing crowds across the Ashes series so far.
Its not Matthew Mott’s job (or Meg Lanning or Ellyse Perry’s) to solve this dilemma; but as a sport, it is a concern.
Perhaps an exciting T20 series can liven things up again, and a forgettable Test can be forgotten? T20 is certainly the format which takes “entertainment” most to heart – it will be really interesting to see if that happens… and how the fans respond.