Australian great Glenn McGrath believes the sight of an almost deserted Melbourne Cricket Ground during England’s recent ODI series sounds alarm bells for the future of the format.
Just over 4,000 fans poured into the vast MCG for the last of three 50-over matches between the former rivals, leaving large areas of the venue completely empty.
Just nine days earlier, over 80,000 people had turned out for England’s T20 World Cup victory over Pakistan in the same stadium, leaving players, fans and pundits united in their criticism of the schedule.
But McGrath, a three-time ODI Cricket World Cup winner, believes the problem runs deeper than a poorly planned series and feels serious thought must be applied to prevent the format being dropped from the calendar permanently.
“It was so disappointing to see crowds like that, ODIs are really under pressure at the moment,” he told the PA news agency from his home in Queensland.
“Melbourne is ranked the sporting capital of Australia, if not the world, they love sport. So for them to have the numbers that they did says a lot about where we are.
“The powerful really need to be careful not to create games just for the sake of playing, games that don’t count for anything. The international agenda is already tough enough. I think they have to respect each series and each game, it has to mean something.
“We have to protect the game. T20 cricket is always growing, it’s fast, fast and exciting and test cricket really tops it. I think both of these formats will stand the test of time.
“I hope ODI cricket continues, I have great memories of it and I would still put the ODI World Cup as more important than T20. But the format is under pressure and we need to see how we keep people in these games.”
McGrath is heading back to England next spring for a theatrical tour with Test Match Special commentary partner Jonathan Agnew, paving the way for a big Ashes summer in 2023.
The 52-year-old often predicts Australia winning 5-0, but while he came close to a Down Under last winter, he expects a much more competitive England squad following a major overhaul under Brendon McCullum.
“I love coming to the UK, it’s always amazing how many English people come up to me and say ‘I used to hate you with a passion when you were playing but now that you’re retired it’s all good,’” he said.
“I take that as a compliment. There’s a bit of mutual respect and fun there. I’m not sure what happened in the last Ashes, but it wasn’t good. England didn’t even show up.
“But this time will be different. With Baz McCullum on board, Ben Stokes as captain and Joe Root being allowed to go and play, they’re a lot more positive.
“They bounce back really well and when it comes out it’s amazing. I think Australia could even take a leaf out of the book and just go out there supporting each other.
::Test Match Special Live – The Ashes Special, featuring Jonathan Agnew and Glenn McGrath, will tour the UK from 5 April. For tickets and venue information, visit www.fane.co.uk/TMS.