Category Archives: New Zealand

Lions’ coach Ackermann asleep at the wheel again

Last year, Johan Ackermann, the coach of South Africa’s Lions super rugby team was literally asleep during the final against the Hurricanes. His team lost to the Hurricanes 3-20.

This year, he appeared to be dozing again as his team lost, only to a different New Zealand team, the Crusaders.

The Lions lost a player to a red card about a minute before half-time but given the inherent advantages they had — they were playing at home, at altitude which made the visitors prone to running out of gas, and in dry weather which has always suited them — they could still have won.

The Lions were trailing 3-15 at half-time and this being a game where the winner would end up taking all, they should have used the kickable penalties they were awarded in the second half to move closer on the scoreboard. But for some mysterious reason, they kept going for touch and aiming for a try instead. At least two kickable penalties were wasted in this manner; a score of 9-15 would have given the home team that much more fire in their bellies in the final run home.

The Lions lost loose forward Kwagga Smith a minute before half-time when he collided with Crusaders’ full-back David Havili who had gone up to take a high kick. Smith had no chance of taking the ball and did not go up in the air to contest it either, but just stood there like a water buffalo; it resulted in Havili’s tripping over him and taking a very dangerous toss. Referee Jaco Peyper had no option but to send Smith off.

(As an aside, it is interesting to note the difference in the way that referees react to the likelihood of head and neck injuries these days. I remember a Test match in 2003, when Australia’s Wendell Sailor tackled All Black Mils Muliaina while the latter was in the air. It was much more dangerous than what Smith did but Sailor only got a yellow card.)

The Lions failed to learn from their previous win, against the Waikato Chiefs in the semi-finals. In that game, the Chiefs were terribly tired towards the latter half of the game and, after leading by a big margin at half-time, were beaten 44-29. The trip from New Zealand to Johannesburg and playing at altitude really took its toll.

Thus Ackermann should have told his men to keep the gap between the two teams on the scoreboard as small as possible and go for broke in the last 10 minutes when the Crusaders would be feeling the effects of altitude and the long flight. But by the 62nd minute, when the Lions got their first try, the score had blown out to 3-25. It could well have been 9-25.

(It must be noted that the Crusaders’ coach Scott Robertson displayed a great deal of intelligence in his substitutions, bringing on players off the bench to ensure that those who took the field at the start were not exhausted before they were replaced.)

Given that the Lions also scored with about seven minutes left, taking those two kickable penalties would have put them within two points. And that would have no doubt given them additional energy to fight it out, especially in front of a vociferous home crowd that filled the stadium to its maximum.

Alas, poor instructions from Ackermann again played the Lions false. This is his last game as coach; maybe the man who replaces him will realise that a coach can do a great deal to help a team win.

French farce spoils great Test series in New Zealand

Referees or umpires can often put paid to an excellent game of any sport by making stupid decisions. When this happens — and it does so increasingly these days — the reaction of the sporting body concerned is to try and paper over the whole thing.

Additionally, teams and their coaches/managers are told not to criticise referees or umpires and to respect them. Hence a lot tends to be covered up.

But the fact is that referees and umpires are employees who are being paid well, especially when the sports they are officiating are high-profile. Do they not need to be competent in what they do?

And you can’t get much higher profile than a deciding rugby test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. A French referee, Romain Poite, screwed up the entire game in the last few minutes through a wrong decision.

Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks when a restart found one of the Lions players offside. He then changed his mind and awarded a scrum to the All Blacks instead, using mafia-like language, “we will make a deal about this” before he mentioned the change of decision.

When he noticed the infringement initially, Poite should have held off blowing his whistle and allowed New Zealand the advantage as one of their players had gained possession of the ball and was making inroads into Lions territory. But he did not.

He blew, almost as a reflex action, and stuck his arm up to signal a penalty to New Zealand. It was in a position which was relatively easy to convert and would have given New Zealand almost certain victory as the teams were level 15-all at that time. There were just two minutes left to play when this incident happened.

The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen tried to paper over things at his post-match press conference by saying that his team should have sewn up things much earlier — they squandered a couple of easy chances and also failed to kick a penalty and convert one of their two tries — and could not blame Poite for their defeat.

This kind of talk is diplomacy of the worst kind. It encourages incompetent referees.

One can cast one’s mind back to 2007 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup rugby tournament when England’s Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass and awarded France a try which gave them a 20-18 lead over New Zealand; ultimately the French won the game by this same score.

Barnes was never pulled into line and to this day he seems to be unable to spot a forward pass. He continues to referee international games and must be having quite powerful sponsors to continue.

Hansen did make one valid point though: that there should be consistency in decisions. And that did not happen either over the three tests. It is funny that referees use the same rulebook and interpret things differently depending on whether they are from the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere.

Is there no chief of referees to thrash out a common ruling for the officials? It makes rugby look very amateurish and spoils the game for the viewer.

Associations that run various sports are often heard complaining that people do not come to watch games. Put a couple more people like Poite to officiate and you will soon have empty stadiums.

True to form, Wallabies whinge after defeat

In the end, what was expected eventuated. New Zealand won the second Test against Australia convincingly and retained the Bledisloe Cup for another year.

Australia? They played better than in the first Test, but could only convert three penalties. No tries, just two line-breaks, and a lot of whinging were what they brought to the table.

Quade Cooper wore the No 10 jersey but did not play the role that a five-eighth is supposed to. He stayed well back, shovelled the ball along and had his regular quota of mistakes, kicking the ball to a spot he never intended to once, and failing to collect a high ball in competition with Israel Dagg; the latter action led to an All Black try a few passes later. For the most part, he was a passenger.

Why was he played at all if his prowess as a playmaker was not going to be utilised? That question should be asked of the Australian coach Michael Cheika – but Cheika is too busy whinging and questioning everything about the game apart from the woeful standards of his team, so he may not have time to reply.

Cheika is up in arms about the refereeing. Now everyone and his dog who has been watching rugby knows that Frenchman Romain Poite is a pedantic referee. He wants everything done exactly as he says and and he explains everything he does twice over to make sure that the players have no room to complain.

It makes him the central figure in any match that he officiates, exactly the opposite of what a referee should be. The better referees stamp their authority on the game early on, make sure the players know who is boss, and then melt into the shadows and let the game flow, unless there is a crying need for them to intervene.

Not so Poite. He does not like it when players try to lecture him about this, that and the other and the Australian captain Stephen Moore should have been aware of that trait. Moore has played more than 100 Tests and there is no way he would be unaware of the quirks of every single referee in international rugby.

Yet, a day after the game, there was Cheika whinging that Poite had been rude to Moore, not listening to the captain’s request to have a word with him. Surprise, surprise. Poite has been doing this for years and years. If Cheika was unaware of it, then he should blame himself. New Zealand captain Kieran Read was wiser; whenever Poite told him something, he just nodded in agreement and got on with the game.

Australian scrum-half Will Genia made one line break in the second half but found himself with no support. He looked around wildly for a teammate and found none. The move then broke down. Full-back Israel Folau, who would have much better chances to show his amazing talents as a centre, made the other break after getting an inside pass from Cooper. He almost made it to the line, but the doughty New Zealand defence caught him in time.

New Zealand found the going a little more difficult this week. The Australians were in their faces a lot more – but no-one had told newcomer Adam Coleman where to draw the line or explained to him that he had to back up his aggression with decent play. As a result, the big man flailed around a while and then earned his first yellow card shortly before half-time when he hit full-back Ben Smith with a late tackle, no arms to boot.

The gap between the teams is frightening. New Zealand’s quick passing, offloading in the tackle, supporting teammates and reading the flow of the game is far superior to the lumbering Wallabies. Newcomer Anton Lienert-Brown showed the confidence present in New Zealand ranks with an impressive debut, running the ball fluently and being a great asset. He had come in to replace Ryan Crotty who was injured in the first Test.

As usual, the rugby media, mainstream or otherwise, won’t notice things like these. Why, Planet Rugby is still convinced that Scott Fardy, and not Coleman, received a yellow card! This is a site dedicated to the game, mind you.

No yellow card

Beauden Barrett played a sterling role in the New Zealand win as usual. This man will be the next Dan Carter. He only has to get his place-kicking sorted out a bit, and he will be talked about in more glowing terms in the years to come. The way he reads the game and reacts is simply amazing.

And finally, a word about Sam Cane. He has plugged one of the biggest holes left in the team after the last World Cup, taking over from Richie McCaw. He does a more than adequate job on most occasions, but played out of his skin in this game and was deservedly the man of the match.

Picking Quade Cooper for Bledisloe II not the wisest decision

Australia’s rugby coach Michael Cheika does not appear to be one who learns from history. Or maybe he is ignorant of what has happened in the past when Australia included Quade Cooper in its team to play New Zealand.

Else, he may not have picked Cooper to play against New Zealand in tonight’s second Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington, a crucial game as far as Australia is concerned. If they lose or draw, then the Cup stays in New Zealand for another year. The last time Australia won the Cup was in 2002.

Let’s take a look back in time. Cooper was chosen to play in the 2011 World Cup semi-final against Australia. The match was played in New Zealand.

A few months before that game, during the annual internationals, Cooper had made the mistake of trying to take on New Zealand captain Richie McCaw and get in his face. It did not go down well with New Zealanders.

Let me quote from what I wrote at the time, on 17 October 2011: “For some reason, Cooper decided to start a running battle with the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw some months ago. It developed into physical confrontation at times and Cooper, without realising what he was biting off, kept portraying himself as New Zealand public enemy No 1.

“It was a wrong decision. Cooper is an infant in international rugby while McCaw has been around for eight years and is quite easily the best in his position in the world. The New Zealand rugby captain is more important to the 4 million citizens of that country than even their own prime minister; Cooper has no such status or anything even remotely like it in Australia.

“Cooper built up a lot of pressure on himself and clearly could not handle it in front of the hostile New Zealand crowds. Every time he made a mistake on the field during the tournament, the crowds cheered. They booed whenever he got the ball.”

Back to tonight’s game. Has Cheika taken these factors into account when picking Cooper? I doubt he has. Will the pressure be any less on Cooper? No, because New Zealand dominates the world in just one sport and the crowds there are unlikely to forget Cooper’s actions in the past.

Cooper was picked for the 2015 World Cup but played second fiddle to Bernard Foley. He only played against Uruguay, a minor team as far as world rugby is concerned.

He should have been eased into Australia’s side by playing in internationals against other countries. Once he was functioning well — and he does have a tendency to screw up badly at times — then he should have been picked to play against New Zealand, first in Australia where he has the home crowd’s support, and then in New Zealand.

Rugby coaches need to look beyond a player’s ability when picking them. Cheika appears to have erred on this selection.

Old is gold, but not when it involves rugby backs

It’s funny that none of the rugby scribes around wrote a single word about the selection of 34-year-old Matt Giteau, 32-year-old Adam Ashley-Cooper and 28-year-old Will Genia in the Australian side to face New Zealand in the first of the annual internationals.

In the normal course of things, one would assume that the coach of any team that has a chance of winning the World Cup would like to start aiming for that target right at the start of the four-year cycle. Australia made it to the last World Cup final and have won the Cup twice, so they are one of the nations that can reasonably entertain hopes of winning again.

But you can’t do that with a 38-year-old centre which is what Giteau will be in 2019 when the next rugby World Cup rolls around. And you wouldn’t want a 32-year-old scrum-half either. Neither would you want a 36-year-old winger for the 2019 team – and that is what Ashley-Cooper will be in four years’ time.

Is one to believe that Nick Phipps, who performed the job at the base of the scrum adequately in the last World Cup, was not good enough for the Australian coach Michael Cheika? Indeed, Phipps showed his prowess by coming on and playing on the right wing after Australia lost three backs, including Giteau, to injury and also scoring the lone try that the home team got as it suffered a big defeat against New Zealand.

Is one to also believe that among the five teams that do duty in the Super Rugby tournament there is not one individual who can fit in as a centre and that Cheika’s only option was to call in a 34-year-old with injury issues to face up to what is arguably the fittest and strongest rugby team in the world? Or that Australia does not have a single decent wing three-quarter in its five Super Rugby teams?

From the moment that Cheika announced these selections, it was obvious that he was more interested in pleasing his masters at the Australian Rugby Union than building a team for the next World Cup. New Zealand has held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 when Reuben Thorne’s side won it back from Australia, and winning that trophy would have pleased the local big-wigs.

Of course, Cheika is not the only one who is looking to the past when trying to fill the ranks. His South African counterpart Allister Coetzee displayed similar thinking by playing Bryan Habana on the wing against Argentina on the same weekend. Habana is 33 and I am yet to see a 37-year-old winger play in a team in the World Cup. South Africa is also a team that would be in contention in any World Cup, having won the Cup twice, once admittedly under rather dubious circumstances. So why Habana? South Africa has one of the largest pools of players to pick from and someone like Courtnall Skosan would have benefitted from the exposure.

On the other hand, Steve Hansen, the coach of New Zealand, has brought in new players instead of depending on any old hands. He lost much more experience compared to the others because Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, and Keven Mealamu all ended their international careers after the last World Cup.

Hansen has retained two older players in Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino; the latter will be 37 when the next World Cup comes around but is one of the fittest and strongest players in world rugby and is unlikely to be a liability in the team. Remember, he is a forward and does not have to be a strong runner – even though he does a fair bit of scoring in internationals.

Lions’ coach was asleep during final loss to Hurricanes

A good rugby coach knows when to bring a player on for maximum effect. He also knows when a player is not performing to expectations and brings on a substitute.

Given this, Johan Ackermann, the coach of South Africa’s Lions super rugby team should wear a goodly portion of the blame for the team’s loss to the Wellington Hurricanes in the final of the 2016 super rugby tournament.

The Lions’ entire game is built around running the ball wide, with the fulcrum being fly-half Elton Jantjies. In dry conditions, with quick ball coming his way, Jantjies is a formidable player, as he showed in the semi-final against the Otago Highlanders.

But on the day of the final against the Hurricanes, it was cold, wet and windy. In addition, Jantjies had to contend with a bunch of Hurricanes players who were quick off the mark when defending, harassing their Lions counterparts no end.

Under these conditions, Jantjies played poorly. It was his delayed pass to centre Lionel Mapoe that led to the latter making a hurried low kick to try and clear the ball to safety, a kick that landed in the left hand of Hurricanes’ winger Cory Jane who grabbed it gratefully and sauntered over for the Hurricanes’ first try.

In the second half, trailing 3-13, and with 11 minutes to play, Jantjies was again at fault, almost ambling as he tried to touch down a ball that had been kicked into the try-in goal area by Hurricanes’ substitute hooker Ricky Riccitelli.

Jantjies’ opposite number, Beauden Barrett, was much quicker and was travelling at a speed of knots; he got his hands to the ball well before Jantjies, to give the Hurricanes their second try.

Apart from three penalties, two to the Hurricanes and one to the Lions, that was all the scoring on the day.

Jantjies kicked poorly as well, missing another penalty which was well within his range. On other occasions, the team made poor decisions, no doubt influenced by Jantjies’ poor form, that led to them taking penalty kicks and looking for ground advantage rather than trying to get the three points on offer. Given that their lineout functioned poorly on the day, these decisions did not do them much good.

One only has to go back to a tape of the semi-final win that the Lions registered over the Highlanders to see how dominant Jantjies can be when conditions suit him. But if a player cannot be at his best during a final, for whatever reason, then the coach needs to realise this and bring on a substitute.

So what was Ackermann doing? Or did he not trust Jaco van der Walt, the substitute fly-half? If van der Walt was incapable of taking on the role of substitute fly-half, why was he on the bench? If he was not deemed suitable, why did Ackermann not bring him on as full-back and switch Andries Coetzee to fly-half?

When Plan A is not working in any game, a coach should push the team to try Plan B. Ackermann failed miserably — but nobody seemed to notice his failure to react.

It’s not surprising, given the quality of reportage these days.

New Zealand rugby has something going for it

NEXT weekend, teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa will begin battling it out in the knockout phase of the 2016 Super Rugby tournament.

From 12 teams in 1996, the tournament now has 18 teams: six from South Africa, five each from Australia and New Zealand, and one apiece from Argentina and Japan.

New Zealand’s overall population is just a shade over four million. Yet half the teams in the playoffs who play for honours will be from those two islands they call the shaky isles.

It is a remarkable phenomenon.

South Africa, with a population of 54 million, has three teams in the fray while Australia, with a touch over 24 million in its borders, has just one team in the running.

Last year, the final was an all-New Zealand affair, with the Otago Highlanders defeating the Wellington Hurricanes to take the trophy. It has been that way five times.

For the first five years of the tournament, teams from New Zealand topped; only then, did an Australian team win. It took until 2007 for a South African team, the Bulls from Pretoria, to win the tournament.

In the 20 years of Super Rugby, South African teams have taken the trophy home just thrice while Australian teams have won four times. The other 13 times, teams from tiny New Zealand have been triumphant.

Seven of those Kiwi wins have been by the Canterbury Crusaders, and three by the Auckland Blues, with the Waikato Chiefs winning twice and the Highlanders once.

How is it that this tiny nation can dominate in this sport, and not for a year or two, but over decades and decades?

There is a book titled Legacy: 15 lessons in leadership which tells part of the story, detailing the culture of the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team. All the national players are drawn from the super rugby teams; nobody who plays outside the country qualifies.

This book tells of the influence of Maori culture on the team and the players. It is a wonderful example of a nation of white people where the lessons of the first peoples still remain. This is the only case of a team from a white nation in any sport that does a war dance before the game inspired by its first peoples. It is the only white country that sings its national anthem in the language of its first peoples before it sings the same verses in English.

Legacy tells the story of how the New Zealand team learns to lead, how it stays ahead and how it cultivates the spirit of winning. It is a spirit that is followed in the five New Zealand franchises where the coaches are more often than not former national players.

As former All Blacks coach Graham Henry puts it in the book, the expectation is that the team will win every match, and if that expectation wasn’t there, then the team wouldn’t be half as successful.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from this little country that produces such magnificent teams year after year and plays the game as it should be played: with flamboyance and flair.

After nine years, Wayne Barnes still cannot tell a forward pass

BRITISH rugby referee Wayne Barnes is well known as the man who helped France defeat the All Blacks in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup, failing to spot a blatant forward pass that led to a French try.

France won that game 20-18, a match that was remarkable also for the fact that Barnes did not find a single infringement by the French in the second half worthy of a penalty.

In the World Cup final of 2015, Barnes was a linesman and failed to see that a pass from New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to flanker Jerome Kaino was miles off the horizontal; New Zealand benefitted by three points as a result of a penalty shortly thereafter. And when Wales played South Africa in the pool games of that same World Cup, Barnes could not spot a conversion that would have given Wales victory.

On Saturday night, in Auckland, Barnes showed that he still does not know how to judge a forward pass.

Eight minutes from the close of the first New Zealand-Wales Test, with the hosts ahead 32-21, standoff Aaron Cruden threw a clever dummy, made his way through a few Welsh players and then passed to substitute scrum-half T.J. Perenara who ran in to score close to the posts.

Cruden’s pass was kosher; the International Rugby Board rules clearly say that if a player’s hands are pointed away from the horizontal, then the pass is fine, even if the ball does go forward. This rule is put in place because the ball may float forwards due to a wind factor.

Barnes asked the television match official to check a replay and see if the pass was forward. When the TMO, Australia’s George Ayoub, advised Barnes that the pass was fine, Barnes called for another viewing of the action on the big screen.

Ayoub than repeated his verdict: you can award the try. But Barnes chose to overrule Ayoub and disallowed the try, claiming that the pass from Cruden to Perenara was forward.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter because the All Blacks would have won anyway – even if they had not scored a last-minute try through substitute hooker Nathan Harris which made the final score 39-21.

It could have, however, caused some anxiety if a try by Welsh number eight Toby Faletau, soon after Barnes’ crazy decision, had been allowed. Faletau was rightly adjudged to be ahead of a kicker when he chased down the ball and scored. The try was, thus, disallowed.

The question that should be raised is: what is Barnes still doing officiating international rugby matches? He should be sacked right away.

T20 takes pride of place in Australian summer

The Australian cricket season has just started flourishing with its Twenty20 tournament getting underway. Crowds are there, so too television audiences.

This year the Big Bash League is the main story, not the Test cricket that has traditionally been the centrepiece.

Two nondescript teams have been booked for the summer, with neither New Zealand nor the West Indies the kind that would challenge Australia.

And the better team of the two was booked for the earlier part of the summer. New Zealand lost two of three Tests and drew one. The West Indies have lost one and nobody gives them a chance in hell of even making a contest of the remaining two Tests.

Only India or England would pull the crowds: England because the traditional rivalry with Australia goes back more than a century and India because the team is a feisty lot who will nowadays give as good as they get. Last time out, they drew two of the four Tests and gave up winning positions in the two they lost.

South Africa will not visit at this time of the year any more; they have their own season to look after and it is the biggest time of the cricketing year for them too. They are slated to play England in a Test series that starts on Boxing Day.

So is the T20 the new medicine for Australian cricket? It depends a lot on who is here to play Test cricket.

These are the kind of questions the International Cricket Conference should be considering. But it appears it has more important things to do than nurturing the game from which it earns its daily bread.

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.