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children are the key to the future of the game, not the broadcasting rights

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The resounding victory scored by the England cricket team in the first test match in Chennai, India on February 9, was truly historic. India had lost only one of their most recent 35 Tests at home and had not lost in Chennai since 1999. The victory was largely secured by England captain Joe Root, who achieved the highest individual score ever achieved by an English player in a test in India. The icing on the cake came from fast bowler James Anderson, whose devastating show of swing bowling turned the momentum inexorably in England’s favor on the last day.

The match was also notable for being the first time the England test team had appeared live on British terrestrial television since 2005. Historically, England (men’s) test matches were considered sporting crown jewels of such national importance that they had to be available live and free-to-air. But this meant that the game is missing out on the huge potential revenue generated from pay-TV rights.

English Cricket Board (EC) successfully petitioned the government and it was announced in late 2004 that it would be Test cricket relegated to the B list after 2005, which means it can be bought up by people like Sky TV for exclusive broadcast on subscription channels. Since then, with a few exceptions, anyone who does not have a pay-TV subscription has been unable to watch live international cricket in the UK.

It was terrible timing because the 2005 series was also truly remarkable, as viewers in the UK could watch their team win a hard-fought series to break the Ashes’ 16-year dominance in Australia, and get the trophy for it. first won on home soil. time in 18 years. In a BBC Radio 5 Live poll in 2005, 80% of respondents said they do now preferred cricket to footballThe TV deal with Sky was announced in December 2004 but is grumbling turned to horror in the fall when people realized what the public would miss now.

Notable cricket victories in England are inevitably followed by a discussion of the potential to harness this public popularity. In part, this is because those who run the game or give media attention are jealous of the richness of football. Their firm belief that the game should be more popular also explains why cricket is unique in continuously tinkering with the different formats of the games through the introduction of one-day games and, more recently, the short form T20 en (to be released this year). ) The hundred, an even more condensed version of the game.

Future of the game

Ideas for increasing the popularity of games invariably revolve around the desire to involve more children. For example, The hundred is billed as an unforgettable experience for the whole family. But how realistic is that?

A boy dressed to play cricket stretches out his leg, with other players in the background.
Next generation? Primary school children would rather play cricket than watch it on television.
Paul Rushton via Shutterstock

In a 2012 survey for the Cricket Foundation (published in the Journal of the Cricket Society in 2014 and unfortunately only available online to members), we found that while 76.5% of primary school children played cricket in school, only 20% correctly name the English gentleman’s captain. We found that the short T20 cricket was twice as popular as test cricket among high school students. Only a quarter of these children had seen a live cricket match or claimed to be watching England Test matches on TV.

While 35.8% owned an English football jersey, only 9.3% owned the same cricket equipment. Perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority of children wanted more options to play the game rather than the freedom to watch games live or on TV.

So children seem to deal with cricket differently than adults. Children especially want the stimulation of hitting a ball or experiencing the deep-seated feeling of being part of a rowdy crowd. Adults are more drawn to the intellectual engagement that the game offers. Understanding the subtleties of the sport takes time to develop and for those looking to increase the popularity of crickets, change can be frustratingly slow.

Winning helps

So what will make the difference in the popularity of crickets? It seems that broad television coverage is not that important. When Sky TV generously shared coverage of the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup Final with free channels, the view figures were only 100,000 less than the high of 2005, so not much had changed in the intervening 14 years.

England's cricket team captain Michael Vaughan is holding up the Ashes trophy after winning the series against Australia for the first time since 1985.
Finally, the England team, led by captain Michael Vaughan, is celebrating winning the Ashes for the first time in 20 years.
EPA / Gerry Penny

What we learn earlier from 2005’s Ashes and the unprecedented grip that cricket had on the nations’ attention is that the biggest sporting events resonate with a broader social story. The Ashes series of 2005 took place against the backdrop of a new, more inclusive, democratic and open sense of EnglishnessThis was a team challenging ideas of cricket as an upper class game, with a heroic sober talisman in all-rounder Andrew Flintoff roaring through the Barmy Army

But also, during that Ashes series, London was the target of terrorist bombings on several transportation hubs, killing 52 people and injuring dozens of others. The country urgently needed a feel-good factor. Cricket historians referring back to the 1981 Ashes series, when another great all-rounder, Ian Botham, almost single-handedly beat the visiting Australian team, remember England in the grip of bitter and divisive race riots at the time.

Cricket gets popular when England does well. But the victory in this year’s first Test against India was followed by a massive defeat in the next game. Whether or not English fans continue to enjoy the success of their national team on free-to-air TV, it will ultimately be the kids racing out with their bats and balls and youthful enthusiasm that will keep the future of the sport in their place. hands.

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