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Thursday, 12 November 2015

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 4

Thursday, 12 November 2015
The journey on the field over the past ten years has been bumpy, to say the least. England have been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, through ends of eras and as many fresh beginnings. Now though, I turn my attention away from events on the pitch, and look to how the longer term issues away from the field have evolved over the past decade.


2005 saw the last time live test cricket was shown on terrestrial television in Britain. And undoubtedly it helped that series capture the public imagination in such a way. Sure, we look back on it and we tend to forget the problems with the Channel 4 coverage: large chunks of play making way for the racing, meaning to see a full days play some form of digital television would often be needed; and start and finish times being earlier to allow for showings of Hollyoaks. Sky have done a lot of good things, too. They bring a lot of excellent analysis, help fund the latest high-tech gear, the money has helped the sport at a grassroots level, and boosted the women's game. But how many people are there watching it? What can be a substitute for inspiring a new wealth of fans, even a new generation of players, who can watch their heroes so easily on the television?

Of course there's no easy solution, there never is. There aren't any free-to-air broadcasters willing to stump up the money for one. Cricket is time-consuming, and when it's not an Ashes series, there's never the same level of general interest. It's not on the 'crown jewels' of sporting events which have to be shown free-to-air, and so it's difficult to justify making a substantial bid. Money matters, and Sky have it. It's no criticism of them, and I do thoroughly enjoy their coverage. But maybe there could be a small amount that's not locked behind a paywall. Maybe Sky's Pick channel, available to a much wider audience on Freeview, could be used to show the odd slice of live action, international and domestic. And then people might be more likely to just chance upon it, and suddenly find themselves hooked. I don't know what the answer is, but I feel like there must be at least some way to make television coverage a bit more accessible.


One of the bigger issues over the past ten years has been the rise of Twenty20. England's Twenty20 competition debuted in 2003, whilst England played their first international match in the summer of 2005 - beating Australia by 100 runs. But they've never capitalised on the success of a format they pioneered. India had been somewhat wary of the format to begin with, but then saw its huge potential and the IPL was born. England missed the boat, and instead got into bed with Allen Stanford, his helicopters and crates of cash. We all know how that turned out. England have never quite figured out the format for their Twenty20 league, and are still yet to do so. What's the balance between franchises and regional identities, between counties with test grounds and those without, but who are more likely to sell out from the games? When should it be played: does a once-weekly competition affect the standard, but does too much in a condensed period affect the crowds? How to attract the biggest stars?

Meanwhile, there's often been a subtle and at times not-so-subtle hostility to the players who choose to head to the IPL. Like many test cricket is my favoured format, the pinnacle, and I'm not keen on players skipping tests to play Twenty20. But whilst I only have a passing interest in the IPL – mainly due to not having a strong attachment to any one team – it has a place, and it has a value, and that needs to be recognised. Why frown upon players who want to go and learn from the best in the world, in new conditions, in front of massive crowds? It's not just a payday, it can be a great learning experience. How much of the sneering comes from bitterness and jealousy? It does though look to be changing, as under Andrew Strauss the limited-overs forms are becoming more of a priority than they were before.

These aren't issues with simple answers. What is the balance between the game's accessibility for fans, and having the money to improve the game at a grassroots level? What is the balance between letting players join big Twenty20 leagues, and their preparations for the longer forms of the game? The questions come up again and again, and it's a difficult path for the ECB to navigate.

At the same time though, the board's relationship with the fans seems most often on a downward spiral.

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 5
Where Are We Now?

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