Monday, 2 June 2014

On the Box

Having read the headline above, most of you are probably thinking that this is another article about getting hit in the balls from a seamer nipping one back on the wet pitches that no doubt, you have played on this weekend. Alas, it is not. This is something far more serious than that. This is about cricket being played by less people and the fact that we are losing youngsters to cricket. The decision to sell the crown jewels (no I am not talking about bollocks again, although some say I do talk bollocks), to Sky is backfiring and the kids of today cannot identify many of the current crop. Something needs to be done before it is too late, and this means getting cricket back on terrestrial television.

For anyone under the age of 15, this is the legend Richie Benaud
When I was a lad growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, Gower, Botham, Boycott, Randall, Gatting and many others became instant heroes to us. We would have the TV on all day when we weren't playing, or if the Beeb interspersed the cricket with Royal Ascot, the ladies tennis warm up for Wimbledon from Eastbourne or some second rate golf competition. Even the John Player League on a Sunday would familiarise us with county trundlers as we watched Colin Tunnicliffe, Vanburn Holder or Paul Pridgeon go back to the white line that they had to bowl from, off a shortened run. A Benson and Hedges zonal game in May would be worth bunking off school for, to watch the likes of Kevin Sharp, Jim Love or Jack Simmons strutting their stuff.

Not only that but we had sticker albums such as Pannini 83, and earlier in the Seventies we had heroes we wanted to emulate, and we discussed what we had seen on our black and white screens during class time, when we should have been concentrating on work. Cricket became our religion in the summer. Who needed Masterchef when we had the Master Blaster, Vivian Richards?


Nowadays the yoof of today don't even know the full England line up, let alone who a legend like Richie Benaud is, and that is because they aren't exposed to cricket on the box, unless they have Sky. The game has been sold off to the elite in many ways. School playing fields being sold meaning a lack of cricket in state schools is one reason. No cricket on free to air tv, mean that kids from the inner city aren't coming through as much as they used to, is another. For every Norman Cowans, Mike Gatting, Mark Alleyne, Keith Piper, Phil De Freitas or Kevan James that came through inner city London back then, I can only think of Ravi Bopara or Billy Godleman in recent years that have made the grade.

You can counter that the Sky money is keeping counties afloat and that the standards have become stronger. This is true, but surely there must be a way to get some cricket on terrestrial TV? And I don't mean highlights on Channel 5 either. There are less kids playing the game now than there were ten years ago, which is worrying for all concerned. It was such a shame too as the 2005 Ashes, the last to be shown on Channel 4 were absolutely brilliant and had the whole country gripped.

Flintoff and Vaughan had us gripped in 2005

In my league, the Saracens Hertfordshire Cricket League we are seeing a number of games in the lower divisions being cancelled, and already this year, one club has cancelled their third and fourth elevens from the competition. This is because the kids aren't coming through and supplementing the old farts such as myself. It is a hugely worrying scenario that affects us all, who love the game. It must also be extremely frustrating on a sunny day for those in the opposition who want to play, let down by clubs cancelling games.

A recent discussion on Twitter mooted the idea of NatWest T20 games on a Friday night to be shown on BBC2. This could be the equivalent of Superstars to my generation, or It's a Knockout; classic Friday night viewing. John Etheridge of The Sun thought that the Beeb wouldn't pay for something that may or may not be washed out. Saying that, their highlights archives showing stuff from the old days would be great entertainment alone. The BBC would also have to make it worthwhile enough for the counties to make the money that would cover the loss of crowds for their cash cow, as well as getting all their equipment to grounds which isn't cheap, I'm aware.

So if the Beeb wouldn't shell out the readies who would? Channel 4 or 5? The words 'corporate responsibility' are often used in the business world, so do Sky have one in the sense that they should show games on a Freeview channel? Even ITV, the worst place to watch any live sport, haven't done too bad a job with the IPL, although if Andy Townsend comes anywhere near a cricket pitch, I am sure the sound of crashing glass as the country collectively boots their screens in, will be deafening.


There are many questions that need answering before it is too late. Something has to be done to try and encourage the youngsters. Someone, somewhere needs to have the vision to think it is not about trying to get in as much money in the short term as is humanely possible, and to get kids talking about it in the school playground. We want the kids to want to be the next Joe Root, the next Aaron Finch, the next Daniel Bell-Drummond or Alex Lees. We have to look at the long term plan, and the England team will be stronger in twenty years because of it.

Come on TV executives, do something. Stop feeding us with the mindless garbage that passes for reality television. Less Made in Chelsea, more Made in Chester le Street. The Only Way is Essex? Let's see Graham Napier bash it to all parts of Essex.

Less soap operas, mean that I can get off of my soap box. Get it on the box.


  1. Not sure that lack of terrestrial telly is the problem. Selling off school playing fields definitely is, and the consequent loss of young teachers interested in running a team. Not many comprehensive boys in the England team these days, even among the English ones. The counties just have to take up the slack; even back in the sixties my cricket teacher was a middle-aged Russian teacher who loved the game but had never played it competitively. If I hadn't had a summer at the Essex CCC school in Ilford, being taught ny John Lever and Conrad Hunte, I doubt if I would have played as a teenager. Yet we were all glued to our black-and-white tellys watching ball-by-ball coverage with the aforesaid Richie, the saddos among us even keeping score in our own little scorebooks because captions hadn't been invented yet!


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  2. Why can't Sky air one of the competitions on a Freeview channel (if they don't want to lose their stranglehold over the ECB) - they perhaps wouldn't want their most prized domestic competition available (T20) for free but why not the 50 over competition? I too remember getting home from school (70s) or later work (80s), sticking on BBC2 and catching the climax of a B&H Cup game........ it increased my interest in the game and surprisingly a lot of other people up and down the country (not just in the first class counties).

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