IF THE CAP FITS: Terrestrial TV deal could save cricket

Tom Smith in action for Lancashire
Tom Smith in action for Lancashire

A couple of weeks ago I appeared on BBC Radio Lancashire’s excellent club cricket programme Inside Edge, hosted by Gary Hunt and Mike Latham.

I was invited on in my role as a current player and cricket blogger and we were joined by the recently retired former Lancashire County Cricket Club captain Tom Smith.

I didn’t make many interesting points, but the one that I did make was that Tom’s first class career from 2005-2016 took place almost exclusively when cricket was not on terrestrial television.

It’s sad to think that the iconic 2005 Ashes series was the last cricket available on free-to-air TV when Channel 4 broadcast it, while the BBC last screened live cricket in 1999.

Cricketers today are virtually unrecognisable, which is hardly surprisingly when only people willing to pay a subscription to satellite TV get to watch them.

When I was kid players like Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, David Gower and Graham Gower were household names – which is ironic given the fact the 80s and 90s sawEngland regularly hammered by the West Indies and Australia.

Today’s kids don’t choose cricketers as their role models because nobody knows who they are and this filters down to grassroots cricket, which is short of numbers.

I was listening to Simon Hughes on Test Match Special. He got new England captain Joe Root to record a birthday message to his son, which was played out to his class. According to Hughes only about three classmates knew who Root was!

So why do I share this story? Because last week it was announced that English international and domestic cricket will be shown live on BBC TV for the first time in 21 years from 2020.

In a five-year deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board, more than 100 hours of cricket will be broadcast each summer, including live TV coverage of England men and women’s Twenty20 internationals and the ECB’s new men’s domestic T20 tournament.

It’s time the ECB recognised the correlation between the lack of live cricket on terrestrial TV and the falling levels of interest.

BBC’s Test Match Special is 60 years old and has been flying the flag for cricket fans for generations.

I was thinking about some of my favourite moments in recent years – Ben Stokes’ amazing catch to dismiss Adam Voges at Trent Bridge in 2015; Australia being bowled out for 60 in the same match, with Stuart Broad taking 8-15; and Stokes’ 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in 2016 – all been brought to me by radio and not TV.

For the new blood, we have to make the game accessible on free-to-air TV.