DUBAI // The ailing Test game needs a dramatic Ashes series to revive its waning popularity, according to Michael Vaughan, the former England captain.
In all except the biennial meeting between England and Australia, attendances at Test matches have been in an apparently terminal decline for years.
For example, AB de Villiers struck the highest Test score by a South African yesterday in front of little more than a handful of spectators, even though admission was free at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Cricket Stadium.
Vaughan, who stopped in Dubai yesterday en route to Brisbane, where he will be covering the series in his media role, hopes the Ashes will help win back some of the lustre lost from the game's longest format.
"With what has happened in the past 12 months in world cricket, with so much scandal surrounding the game, a close, fantastic Ashes series which I hope goes all the way to [the final match in] Sydney is just what Test match cricket needs," he said.
England will seek to retain the Ashes when they start their five-Test tour of Australia in Brisbane on Thursday. For the first time in recent memory, England will start as favourites.
"They [Australia] haven't got the depth they used to have." Vaughan said. "That is just the cycle of sport, but they will still be a very competitive team."
Vaughan was accompanied on his trip to the UAE by Jason Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler who is now coaching in Zimbabwe, and he believes England would be foolish to underestimate their hosts.
"Beware the wounded bull," Gillespie said. "Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey haven't had their best 12 months in international cricket, but come day one in Brisbane, they will have their game faces on. It will be an absolute scrap."