The Big Bash League Melbourne derby on Saturday could set a crowd record for domestic Twenty20 cricket, according to Stars all-rounder John Hastings, further magnifying this summer’s seismic shift in popularity to the shortest form of the game.
The Stars and Renegades will renew their rivalry in an MCG blockbuster that officials will be hoping has the venue rocking after the tepid interest and attendance at the Test match between Australia and the West Indies at the same ground this week.
After drawing solid crowds to the first three days of the Boxing Day Test, the fourth day figure dropped to just 7161 on Tuesday, following on from attendances that plummeted to worrying depths in Hobart for the first Test.
More than just the crowd figures, the general feeling that the Melbourne Test bombed as a spectacle continued an over-arching narrative in which Twenty20 has become king with crowds this summer, leaving the game’s longest form to take a back seat.
The attendance record for a BBL match is 52,633 for last year’s semi-final at the Adelaide Oval between the Strikers and the Sydney Sixers.
The crowd for Boxing Day last Saturday was 53,389 fans.
Hastings said the players could feel the rising current underneath the BBL and expected the Stars and Renegades to go close to eclipsing that mark.
“I’d love to see a massive crowd out there and break the domestic record,” Hastings said, unprompted.
“I think the Strikers have nearly sold out Adelaide Oval for New Year’s Eve, so it would be nice to see all the Renegades and all the Stars fans come down and vote with their feet and see if we can get a really big crowd there.”
As Hastings points out, the current BBL record could even be broken before the two teams get to the MCG, with the Adelaide Strikers confirming that their match against the Sixers two days earlier at the Adelaide Oval (listed capacity of 53,583) has been officially sold out.
The biggest crowd the Stars and Renegades have drawn together so far is 46,581, which came in BBL02, back on January 6, 2013 at the MCG.
Crowds have been huge for this BBL, with only one game failing to draw more than 15,000 fans at the box office, and most have been above 20,000.
In terms of this year’s Melbourne derby, whether or not Hastings will recover from a shoulder injury in time to take on the Renegades has emerged as a key on-field storyline for the Stars.
The 30-year-old said he was confident he could overcome his latest setback which occurred at training.
“I’ve been working really hard with the physio and I’m feeling really good,” he said on Wednesday.
“I’ve still got a couple of days to go and so, if it keeps improving, I will be right to go for [Saturday] and the rest of the tournament.”
Battling pain from wear and tear, the potential need for surgery on the shoulder is a factor in the bigger picture for Hastings.
“It’s just going to be one of those things where, if it keeps going well and keeps improving, then hopefully I’ll avoid surgery,” he said.
“But if it keeps popping out, or if it keeps giving me grief, then I will have to get it looked at.”
Complicating that decision, whenever it might arise, is the looming one-day international series against India and then the World Twenty20 in March.
Hastings said he “absolutely” wanted to hold off any call on surgery long enough to ensure his chances of being picked for Australia were not jeopardised.
“First and foremost, I want to make sure I play well for the Melbourne Stars,” he said.
“But in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve played the last one-day game for Australia so hopefully the selectors show a bit of faith.
“I’d love to get another opportunity to play for Australian because I think the timing would be right, and obviously the [World] Twenty20 in India is a big thing as well, so I will be pushing hard for that.”
The hulking paceman admitted to frustration when considering how he was able to get through an entire domestic season in England, but since returning home, had injured himself in training sessions.
“I’ve had a bad run since I’ve got back the last couple of months. But I’ve played five back-to-back seasons now, so the body is probably just starting to tire a little bit,” he said.
“But I still think I am bowling really well and hitting the ball well, I’ve probably just got to stay out of my own way in the nets.”
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