On The Stump: Save Test Cricket – Make It Free To Air

On The Stump: Save Test Cricket – Make It Free To Air

In our fans’ forum Edward Ikin says Test cricket needs to be more accessible in order to boost its popularity.

With a new English domestic T20 competition on the horizon, and with stupendous amounts of cash being handed out to players in the IPL, Test cricket is increasingly under threat.

Neglected and outdated, its future looks bleak. Young, aspiring cricketers don’t want to be the next Alastair Cook or James Anderson, they want to be the Chris Gayle or Tymal Mills of this world who dedicate themselves to the shorter, ‘sexier’ formats.

Why? Because that’s where the interest is and, more importantly, it’s where the money is.

Gone are the days when it was not only acceptable but also fashionable to name Marcus Trescothick’s Test average (43.79, in case you were wondering) and to sport a fluorescent Mohawk. Test cricket is in free-fall and it needs rescuing.

According to a recent survey, only two per cent of children in England and Wales named cricket as their favourite sport. So why is it that the longest form of the game has become so unpopular in recent years? Is it simply down to the increased popularity of T20, or is an inconsistent national team – performing well one week, then humbled by Bangladesh the next – the issue?

My theory is it’s both.

So what’s the solution? The most important step is putting live Test cricket back on free to air TV. Give the players the best possible platform on which to perform. Let them reignite the country’s passion for a game which has had declining support since 2005.

As a country we want to love the game – we really do – but we’re just not given the chance to. Release Ben Stokes to every household in Britain, let Joe Root inspire young boys and girls with his undeniable talent. Wouldn’t it be great to see kids practising reverse-sweeps rather than playing football?

So when can we realistically see live Test cricket on free to air? Sky Sports have a current deal until 2019 but with BT Sport entering the market, who knows what possibilities lie ahead? Initially Sky Sports took advantage of the game’s growth and signed a lucrative four-year deal with the ECB in 2005. However, rather unsurprisingly, popularity soon decreased with the game hidden behind a paywall.

Kevin Pietersen
Seven million tuned in to Channel 4 to watch KP’s special at the Oval in 2005

During the final day of the 2005 Ashes at the Oval, seven million viewers watched as Rudi Koertzen removed the bails, sparking pandemonium in the stands as England regained the Ashes. However, just four years later, a mere two million watched as Andrew Strauss’ men sealed a 2-1 series win over Australia.

Clearly the 2005 series was hugely gripping and that last day at the Oval was a historic moment, but that alone doesn’t explain a difference of five million viewers. And, unfortunately, 2009 was just the tip of the iceberg.

Needing just one wicket to win the first Test of the 2015 Ashes in Cardiff, Moeen Ali had Josh Hazlewood caught in the deep to secure an England victory in an enthralling opening match. But it was revealed that just 340,000 people tuned in to watch. To put that figure in context, a 1974 episode of Columbo showing on ITV4 at the same time had figures of just under 400,000. Not to take anything away from Columbo – I’m sure the episode was a belter – but they are utterly shocking figures.

Terrestrial TV reaches a wider audience, that’s a fact. Who knows the number of potential Stuart Broads or Johnny Bairstows that are out there waiting to be inspired? Thankfully, there was a young lad from Yorkshire called Joe who was watching back in 2005. He is now England’s Test captain and living proof of what impact free-to-air cricket can have.

“I think it would be great to have it on terrestrial TV,” said Root recently. “The more people we can get watching the game can only be good for it. I was very fortunate to turn on Channel 4 in the morning to watch the cricket.”

Root’s views were echoed by his England teammate Steven Finn. “Cricket was more readily available when I was growing up,” he told All Out Cricket. “You could just switch on Channel 4 and I think through pure accessibility more people watched cricket back then than they do now.”

Finn hits the nail on the head. It’s all about access. Who knows what star of the future could be watching.

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