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Sky (and BT) is the limit

Comments Off on Sky (and BT) is the limit 05 December 2017

Sky (and BT) is the limit

“This would be the greatest Ashes Test match win since Headingley 1981,” says Adam Collins, who is apparently something to do with Wisden. He is referring to the current test match between Australia and England, where England have the chance to achieve a record second innings total to win. He could possibly be right, except that it won’t be remembered for long because hardly anyone is watching.

The 1981 England team included players who are still household names today. Geoffrey Boycott, David Gower, Bob Willis and of course Ian Botham. The current England team does not have a single player who is a household name in his own household. We hear the names Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Dawid Malan, James Vince and Mark Stoneman and, apart from keen followers of Our Summer Game, no one knows who they are. Even the great players like Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson could walk along any High Street and not be recognised. Ben Stokes’ move into the public consciousness was entirely because of an alleged fracas outside a Bristol nightclub.

Cricket has returned to its natural place in middle class, middle aged white England. It remains relatively popular in the affluent suburbs of the country but elsewhere it is dying on its arse. Participation levels, especially since all domestic and international cricket was flogged to Sky, continue to plummet. It will not be young people who stay up all night tonight to see if England can pull off an unlikely win in Adelaide: it will be those of us who were around when cricket was accessible to all through free to air terrestrial television. In 2005, many millions watched the epic Ashes series in England. Next summer, when Australia are not touring, the average viewing figure will be in five figures and even they are falling year on year.

Cricket is ideal for Sky and BT. Although they appear to have paid an awful lot to cover games, cricket is good value. Even your average T20 game lasts much longer than a football match. A test match over five days enables the pay TV company to offer extensive wall to wall coverage with highlights to boot, meaning they don’t have to invest in other sports to put something on the air. Whilst no one can deny that Sky’s coverage, and that of BT to a lesser extent, is very good, I am not sure that terrestrial TV could not offer free to air coverage that was more than acceptable.

But maybe it’s too late. No sport, not even rugby union, is based more on class than cricket. State schools don’t, as a rule, play cricket, inner city clubs are in rapid decline. It is a microcosm of our divided society that you are many times more likely to play cricket for England if you went to private school than if you went to a state school. And all that Sky money benefits mainly the behemoth clubs in the Burbs and not the smaller clubs which are either dying or have died.

Cricket, of course, isn’t dying. No country supports test cricket more than this one and the crowds are still very healthy for limited overs cricket, too. The sport has found its niche, among the affluent white middle classes and to that extent it’s doing very well, thank you very much.

Outside the bubble, the excessive media coverage of this Ashes series is playing to a very small gallery and with the English Cricket Board (ECB) being focused on now much money it can get from Sky and BT this will not change. This might come as a surprise to cricket fans who somehow imagine the whole nation is wrapped up in the excitement of the Ashes. It isn’t. And for as long as test match cricket is kept away from mainstream television, it will become more irrelevant than ever.

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