Even the sight of a boundary-filled and blossoming opening relationship between David Warner and Travis Head couldn’t deflect from the sad sight of empty MCG stands as a worryingly-sparse crowd watched Australia play England on Tuesday.
Rather than running at any sort of furious pace the turnstiles clicked over with long minutes in between and the greeting as players entered the colosseum for the 2:20pm start to the third and final ODI sounded like scattered golf claps echoing around a ground which used to heave whenever the two old enemies met.
Crowds of more than 80,000 three times filled the MCG during the recent T20 World Cup, but not when Australia was playing.
Support for international teams outweighed that for the locals during the showpiece event in a fashion which drew questions about the Australians being “on the nose” with their own fans.
That was a suggestion denied on the eve of the match by Australian batting dynamo Marnus Labuschagne, the sort of player who could muster as much enthusiasm for a game with a stick on a beach as an international contest at the MCG, regardless of who turned up to watch.
“I don’t know the specific numbers but I certainly don’t feel like there is a lack of interest in the Australian team,” he said.
“With that much cricket around, it’s a big cost for families to keep turning up.
“You’ve got the World Cup, Big Bash coming up, a five-Test series, I think if people don’t flock to these one-dayers, come Boxing Day it’s going to be a packed stadium with South Africa rolling in.
“I personally don’t feel like there is a lack of interest, but I don’t have the stats, and am not really clued in on the crowd situations.”
History suggested the crowd was never going to be gargantuan.
The average attendance for the only three ODIs ever played at the MCG in November was around 17,000.
That small a number, in an arena designed to hold 100,000, would always make for troubled-viewing but for Cricket Australia the lack of a turnout required every bit of context available.
The series was already won, it was a Tuesday, it’s not school holidays yet, it was a bit cold, and it was a Tuesday.
But last February a T20 international against Sri Lanka, on a Friday night, drew just 13,175 fans.
For the players, the echoey applause for every boundary meant less to them than the boundaries themselves with the players, to a man, declaring every match was an important one 12 months out from a one-day World Cup.
For Head, given the first crack at seizing the opening spot made vacant by the retirement of former captain Aaron Finch, every ball, every shot, every minute in the middle is of significance and the only spectators that mattered were national selectors.
So the left-hander went about his business, as he has done in the opening two games, with an aggression which could make him hard to displace.
Head made a 14th one-day 50, his second this series, in 55 balls with six fours and a six, taking down English bowler Sam Curran, the player of the tournament in England’s T20 World Cup triumph.
Nestling into a comfortable relationship with Warner, the pair put on an unbeaten 112 before rain brought the covers on, and fans scurrying for the plentiful shelter to share.
It was a positive partnership to go with the 147 from the opening match and 33 in Sydney on Saturday, with Head 65 off 66 balls, Warner 42 off 50 balls, and a long afternoon for everyone looming. .
BACK IN CHARGE
Australia resisted the urge to unleash wild thing Riley Meredith for the third and final clash, instead including Sean Abbott for spinner Ashton Agar, with captain Pat Cummins back in charge, taking the reins from Josh Hazlewood.
Eyebrows were raised when both Cummins opted to miss what would have been just his second game in charge in Sydney last Saturday, but also with Hazlewood big preferred to Steve Smith as stand-in skipper.
Hurting your shoulder in a Tuesday ODI in front of no-one rubbed salt, pardon the pun, in to the wounds for English batter Phil Salt.
He injured himself in the field and had to leave, in a blow less for England with the series over and more for the Perth Scorchers.
Having ended the contract of one English batter, Laurie Evans, for a failed drugs test, the Scorchers could also lose Salt.
Englishmen have made a habit of withdrawing from the Big Bash too, with the Melbourne Renegades losing No.1 draft pick Liam Livingstone for the entire tournament, while bowler David Willey also had his contract with the Sydney Thunder terminated.