Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Fast bowlers repel crowds no matter how much they win games

Ever since I first studied first-class cricket, I have noticed a very strong correlation between large crowds, abundant slow spin bowling, and severe weakness in fast bowling. This is clearly seen in:
  1. Australia in the days of Clarrie Grimmett, Bill O‘Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith
  2. England in the period immediately after World War II
  3. India in the three decades from 1948 to 1977
Many people whom I talk to about this deny that spin bowlers attract crowds and fast bowlers repel them. Instead they argue that it is batsmen like Dennis Compton and Donald Bradman who attracted the crowds.

The trouble with this argument, of course, is that cricket-playing nations had had unusually exciting and skilled batsmen before the really large crowds developed. Whilst this may reflect the fact the cricket had not become popular enough, it may also reflect the fact that fast bowlers inherently repel crowds. What in fast bowling repels crowds is not however clear: intimidation was largely absent from fast bowling between the end of the “shooter era” in the 1870s and the “Bodyline” tour of 1932/1933, whilst long run-ups and slow over-rates only began in the 1950s. Even the notion that it is the restricted range of strokes that causes weakness in fast bowling to correlate with big crowds so well seems doubtful when one sees how many runs fast bowlers of the 1900s and 1910s often conceded. It is possible that the predictability or stereotyped strokes used to hit these fast bowlers vis-à-vsi strokes against spin that explains why the correlation is so robust.

Many people who admit there may be truth is the notion that fast bowlers repel crowds more than they attract them (as figures almost unanimously suggest) feel that if the team with fast bowling is very strong (as is universally the case when pitches are fully covered) then fast bowling may still attract crowds. They often point to Lillee and Jeff Thomson in the middle 1970s as an example of this.

However, the article shown here from the Sydney Morning Herald during Australia’s 1984 tour of the West Indies really ought to put paid forever to the myth that fast bowlers attract crowds.

In 1984, with a battery of four fast bowlers (Marshall, Garner, Holding, plus Milton Small, Courtney Walsh, Winston Davis and Wayne Daniel) the West Indies were completely dominating Test cricket. Yet, Peter McFarlane clearly shows that even at the peak of their power Lloyd’s West Indians were losing a great deal of money - at least with home Test Matches. The fact that no specialist spin bowler had ever been played - being viewed as an expensive luxury with all the fast bowling available - since Gibbs’ retirement nine years beforehand is so consistent with this theory little should be said. If spin bowling is deliberately excluded either by policy or selection crowds will always stay away, and those who lament the commercialisation of the game by things like 20/20 cricket have a clear answer.

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