The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WHAT'S THE BUZZ -

THE full ex­tent of cricket’s “Sand­pa­per­gate” brand dam­age has been re­vealed in new re­search that shows the once trea­sured na­tional team is now the least pop­u­lar of Aus­tralia’s ma­jor sports.

A sur­vey of fans in the al­limpor­tant 14-34 age group re­veals the cricket team now even trails the strug­gling Wal­la­bies, who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing one of their worst runs in his­tory.

The crick­eters need more per­for­mances like Fri­day night’s against South Africa when Aaron Finch’s team snapped an 8-game ODI los­ing se­quence.

The Soc­ceroos, on the back of the World Cup in Rus­sia, are now Aus­tralia’s favourite sport­ing team in front of the Kan­ga­roos, who have had real growth un­der Mal Meninga’s lead­er­ship and the re­cent spike in in­ter­est in the in­ter­na­tional game.

It is re­mark­able con­sid­er­ing rugby league is strong in only NSW and Queens­land.

Much of the credit should go to Meninga and the work he has done since his ap­point­ment in 2015 to re­vive in­ter­na­tional foot­ball and put re­spect back into the Kan­ga­roos jersey.

The re­cent Test match against Tonga in Auck­land drew a big­ger av­er­age au­di­ence (283,000) on Fox Sports than last week­end’s open­ing Aus­tralia-South Africa cricket ODI in Perth (248,000).

And the rugby league had to com­pete with Chan­nel 9 while the cricket was avail­able only to Fox Sports view­ers.

The re­search showed other fan­tas­tic re­sults for rugby league, with the Jil­la­roos nar­rowly more pop­u­lar than soc­cer’s Matil­das.

But the big story is the cricket turn off af­ter Sand­pa­per­gate.

The same re­search four years ago showed the Aus­tralian cricket side was the No. 1 team in the coun­try. Now only 8.8 per cent of fans in the 14-34 age group rate the cricket team as their favourite na­tional sport­ing side.

Soc­cer boss David Gal­lop was de­lighted by the find­ings.

“This is a sim­ple and com­pelling de­mon­stra­tion that foot­ball unites the coun­try like no other sport,” he said. “We are proud of our di­ver­sity and mul­ti­cul­tural com­mu­nity and foot­ball pro­vides a glue that will only get stronger in the years to come.

“The re­cent Soc­ceroo de­buts of South Su­danese refugees Thomas Deng and Awir Ma­bil shows why foot­ball is such a force in the coun­try. The world game brings Aus­tralians from all cul­ture her­itages to­gether.”

De­spite the strong re­cent growth in women’s sport, the fe­male num­bers were well down.

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