For Cricket Australia, some unorthodox early-season scheduling was a case of damned if you fixture a bunch of low-key international men’s T20s against overwhelmed opposition, damned if you don’t.
If you have felt nonplussed by Australia’s unusually subdued start to the summer against Sri Lanka and Pakistan, then fast-forward to the T20 World Cup next October when the international version of the extremely-limited-over games will be, for a rare moment, front and centre in the national sporting consciousness.
If Australia had not used a tiny hole in the crowded international fixture this season to refine selection and tactics then failed before full houses in the T20 World Cup, the same critics now bemoaning these sparsely attended games would be asking why there had not been more.
As England proved with its well-calculated and inevitably successful ODI World Cup planning, some of the chance can be removed from the ever more sophisticated and data-driven short formats with thorough preparation.
At the very least, by crushing Sri Lanka and Pakistan over six lopsided T20s, Australia gained the answer to one compelling question.
Yes, Steve Smith is a walk-up start for Australia’s T20 World Cup team, having embarrassed those of us who wondered if he had the ability to click into fourth gear like the world’s great T20 sloggers.
This will please the local T20 World Cup organisers, who can use Smith’s briefly diminished but now wholly rehabilitated public profile to build their promotional campaigns and help fill stadiums.
The same tournament organisers might, like those who don’t have subscription TV, feel less pleased that the early season heroics of Smith, David Warner, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc and co were witnessed by a relatively minuscule audience because of Fox Sports exclusive coverage.
Cricket Australia would argue that the extra money from the Fox Sports element of its media rights deal allows it to bankroll the WBBL (which ran concurrently with the men’s T20s but on free-to-air TV) and the improved wages of female players in an increasingly competitive market.
However, as English cricket followers would be quick to counter, the deprivation of cricket from the vast majority who have only free-to-air TV presents an enormous risk.
This threat to cricket’s overall exposure was considered by a House of Lords committee which recently argued The Ashes should be included on Britain’s list of “protected programs” to be shown only on free-to-air; an obviously unfeasible finding given the need to package media rights in a saleable block.
Still, this recognition that the same lucrative rights deals that provide enormous potential revenue opportunities can also potentially poison sport’s roots is timely.
In future programming, Cricket Australia will also no doubt consider the reputational damage caused when relatively tiny crowds watch the usually acclaimed national men’s team at home.
The BBL has been driven by potential fans at home seeing the upbeat atmosphere at venues and wanting to get in on the fun. It was highly unlikely anyone with a Fox Sports subscription who saw this season’s international T20s was rushing to the ground to sit in the empty bay of seats and listen to another clumping shot by Warner or Finch echo around the stadium.
Another lesson from England’s recent experience is that placing an obsessive focus on winning a major trophy at home can cause undue distraction from other compelling tasks.
There is little doubt the long-term effort England devoted to winning a first ICC World Cup left Test players in the ODI set-up exhausted, dishevelled and vulnerable in at least the early stages of this winter’s Ashes series.
So with Australia having departed the T20 laboratory after a brief and necessary period of experimentation, it is reassuring that full attention will now be turned to what some still call “the real thing” — the forthcoming Test series against Pakistan and New Zealand.
The first stage of this process is arguably even more unassuming than the early international T20s: a three day-night match between Australia A and Pakistan in Perth. But the implications for the impending summer are compelling, most obviously on Australia’s still-unsolved batting line-up.
The automatic incumbency of Warner and Smith now make it seem as if last summer was a weird variation on the standard cricket nightmare (it’s your turn to bat but you can’t get your pads and gloves on).
To Smith and Warner you can add another certain starter in the admirable Marnus Labuschagne, who has performed upon his return from a successful Ashes series in the same manner that demanded his selection — churning out big fifties and the occasional ton on tough tracks and in tight situations.
Matthew Wade is the other name writing itself on the selection sheet, while Queensland opener Joe Burns has the vote of those still traumatised by the sight of Stuart Broad charging in to destroy yet more left-handed cannon fodder.
But there are cases to be made for Marcus Harris back on the hard Australian tracks where his slashing strokes are more handsomely rewarded, the eternally enigmatic Usman Khawaja, the not-quite-established Travis Head, the precocious Will Pucovski but, sadly, not for a while the convalescing Nic Maddinson.
So much to ponder in the next few weeks before the first Test against Pakistan, just as there was much to ponder in the international T20s.
Although the machinations of those games will only be appreciated should Australia’s men lift the T20 World Cup about this time next year.