The cricket world cup starts tonight. Who knew? Well, I knew because of the relentless advertising on Sky Sports – well, as ever they have exclusive rights to show it – but hardly anyone is talking about it. Until now, I haven’t been.
I remember the early world cups because they were usually in this country and they were on the BBC. People did talk about cricket in those days and they didn’t have to go out of their way to watch it on the telly. Now people do have to go out of their way to watch cricket because Rupert Murdoch owns the lot.
That’s not to say that Sky is crap with its coverage. On the contrary, it’s coverage, apart from some of its commentators, is very good, as it should be for the amount of money they lavish on it. And it should be good because they have the monopoly.
Now and again, I visit my local and leading up to the world cup, everyone is talking about football. Or rugby. Even the cricket team aren’t talking about cricket. It’s off the radar.
The England team are no longer household names. They are known to aficionados but no cricket team has transcended the sport since the team of 2005 when it was on C4. Thousands turned out to cheer them in London after they won the Ashes. No one did in 2009 when they won them again but then it was shown on Sky. And should England win the world cup and the Ashes next summer, the streets will not be packed with cheering cricket fans. Everyone knew Freddie Flintoff 10 years ago. No one knows who Alex Hales is (many other unknown England players are available). The likes of Vaughan, Flintoff and Pietersen could walk in my local and everyone would know them, even my partner. Now, they could walk in and half the cricket team wouldn’t. Does this matter?
Frankly, it does matter. You are now far more likely to play for the national team if you went to a private school because in state schools the game is dying, if it isn’t dead already. Cricket has long moved away from many inner city areas, although it remains big in the more affluent suburbs. And the fact is that less people are playing the game.
It’s the world cup and to most people it doesn’t really matter. It’s only a Commonwealth cup really, even less a world cup than the rugby union world cup, but with added Afghanistan, Scotland and UAE to make up the numbers. But it should matter.
The truth is that the Sky money has not really filtered down to the cricket grassroots. I know that because I am now involved in cricket locally in a minor way and I can see how clubs are struggling with almost no support from the centre. In many cases, there is not even an almost.
It’s a shame to see our summer game return to the middle classes and above. For a time, it genuinely seemed that it was a game that would be played by large numbers of people from all social groups but that dream is over.
Good luck to England, even though hardly anyone knows the players. We want you to win, but even if you do, hardly anyone will see it.