Scrolling through news about the England cricket team the other week, I stumbled across an article by The Sun entitled ‘Who is Play to the Whistle Guest James Anderson?’ Well he’s only England’s all-time leading wicket taker and probably best ever bowler.
Play to the Whistle is a light-hearted sports panel shows broadcast by ITV and hosted by Holly Willoughby, and you have to think if Wayne Rooney or Andy Murray made an appearance on the show, The Sun wouldn’t be doing an article saying who they are.
Herein lies the problem that English cricket is currently staring ruefully in the face: in the years since the rights to broadcast England’s matches were sold purely to Sky Sports, its cricketers have become almost faceless, unrecognisable to those other than cricket fans. For The Sun to feel the need to tell its readers who England’s all-time leading wicket taker is demonstrates the scope of the problem.
It’s not necessarily a problem, more a shame, in the fact that people like James Anderson don’t get the attention and recognition they deserve, it’s that it’s becoming a real issue in levels of participation in cricket across the country.
A recent survey found that only 2% of British kids age 7-15 rate cricket as their favourite sport, but more alarmingly only 7% had it in their top two and when asked to name up to ten different sports, 3/5 didn’t mention cricket in their list.
I know such surveys don’t tell the whole story, but this one has some damning evidence on how cricket is viewed by the next generation across this country. While some would argue that there is plenty of talent coming through English cricket at the moment, which undoubtedly there is, and therefore not to worry, this is a generation which grew up with the Ashes 2005 – the best Test series of all time. In an interview last summer, Joe Clarke, a player tipped for future stardom, said football was the sport he played until falling in love with cricket after watching the amazing Ashes 2005 series.
While we can only speculate how many of the current crop of English cricket’s talent were in a similar boat to Clarke, the ECB should be worried. Even if England manage to win the Champions Trophy in the summer, or even the World Cup in two years’ time, both on home soil, how many kids are actually going to see it?
They will both inevitably be broadcast by Sky, unlike the Ashes 2005 which was crucially shown on terrestrial television. With viewing figures low, will we see a shrinking of England’s talent pool in years to come? It would seem so unless the ECB act now. Children often try sports which they have seen on television – we all remember watching and then trying to emulate in the back garden those we see play on television.
With plans for a new T20 franchise tournament to be staged in England and Wales finalised, it’d be as good an opportunity as any to show cricket on free-to-air television, and hopefully to reinvigorate interest in cricket in this country once more.
Ben Stokes recently became the most expensive overseas player to have ever been bought in an IPL auction, but it’s clear that he will be a much bigger name in India than he unfortunately is in the UK. With the IPL being available to everyone across India, not the select few who can afford astronomical subscription fees, cricketers over there are worshipped like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. I know cricket is India’s main sport, but without available access to their heroes, how could they continually hold them in such high esteem?
Joe Root, after a record breaking year on a personal level and as part of an England side that against all the odds regained the Ashes, seemed like a genuine candidate for Sports Personality of the Year for 2015. Startlingly, however, Root didn’t even make the final shortlist, never mind final three. He was number 1 ranked batsman in the world at the time, the new record holder for England runs in a calendar year, a role model professional in what is still technically the national summer sport and genuine personality with a cheeky smile to boot. But no. Sorry Joe. Not bad mate, but not enough.
Root’s omission from that list reflected BBC’s omission of cricket as a whole – not a sport it shows, not a sport its viewers know. Gone are the days when England’s cricketers were household names – cricket has sneaked behind the veil of paid television.
When the world’s number 1 batsman is deemed unworthy by the BBC to take his place on the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist, it’s time the ECB wake up to the fact it needs cricket being shown on such channels before it’s too late and we lose the game of cricket from these shores altogether.