Moeen Ali has expressed his fears for the future of Test cricket, suggesting even the Ashes is losing some of its magic after a “disappointing” public reaction in Australia.
The all-rounder is back on England duty after being rested for the Twenty20 tri-series and is preparing for the one-day campaign against New Zealand, which begins in Hamilton on Sunday.
But, it was the fate of the red-ball game which occupied his mind as he fielded questions at the team hotel in Auckland.
Questioning the viability, the marketability, or long-range prospects of the five-day format is hardly new – the sport has arguably been engaged in an extended existential crisis ever since T20 emerged on the scene – but the old rivalry between England and Australia has always been thought immune.
Moeen had a torrid series from a personal point of view as the tourists were outclassed 4-0, but he revealed the entire occasion had failed to live up to the hype.
“It’s been a worry for a while, but Australia really opened my eyes. I found it disappointing,” he said of his first Test tour Down Under.
“I feared (for the future) in the Ashes, actually. The crowds were quite disappointing in general.
“There were a couple of days – Boxing Day, the first day of the series – but even when they won the Ashes there weren’t that many people celebrating.
“That’s when I thought, ‘Actually, we’re struggling a bit’. We’re very lucky in England – after being all around the world and seeing the crowds everywhere else, we’ve got the best fans, we’ve got full houses most of the time.
“But I think the Big Bash had bigger crowds than the Ashes. That’s great for T20, but for Test matches it’s a massive worry.”
Cricket Australia would be quick to point out it has considerably bigger stadia to fill than England and can rightly claim the series provided both a record attendance at the Adelaide Oval and a bumper crowd of 88,172 at the MCG on Boxing Day.
It said: “The Magellan Ashes Series was attended by 866,732 people around the country, making it the second most attended Australian Test series on record, after the 1936-37 Ashes series (948,498), demonstrating the huge interest Test cricket continues to command.”
Yet, Moeen’s words will still alarm those who see the primacy of Test being steadily eroded.
For now, it is back to 50-over cricket and a five-match series against the Black Caps.
Joining Moeen in returning from rest are Joe Root and Chris Woakes, while Ben Stokes is also pushing for a long-awaited comeback.
It is five months since he last appeared for England, but he is back with the team having pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
“Just having him back helps the team… having him in the changing room, his presence, the style he plays,” Moeen said.
“A lot of people can thrive off him. When we’ve got our best team out I feel we’re one of the best teams in the world and he’s a massive part of that. He can’t wait to get started and we can’t wait to have him back.”
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