Personally I love cricket, I can watch it for days and given the chance I frequently do. The recent Ashes series last Summer, which is a traditional bi-annual series of games between the game’s 2 oldest adversaries England and Australia, had been the best since 1981 and it has opened up cricket to a much wider audience from its traditional solid middle and upper class roots. There have been numerous debates with plaudits from people usually not into cricket who have said that the Ashes series was too compelling not to watch. There has been Andrew Flintoff’s winning of the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year 2005 and the England cricket team picking up the team award. Cricket had a buzz again, the national team was playing well and the game was becoming a national one again rather than a niche sport.

The ECB had stated that it wants 10% of country to recognise at least 3 of England’s international cricketers by 2008. In 2004 I would say that most people who would not classify themselves as cricket fans would have been hard pressed to recognise any of the England team though most would be able to pick 1981 heroes Ian Botham, Bob Willis and the like from a line-up. Now names like Flintoff and captain Michael Vaughn are household names as are the key players of the foe like Shane Warne, Glen McGrath and Ricky Ponting.

You would think therefore that all might be going to plan especially with an Ashes series coming up at the end of 2006 that promises to be no less competitive than the one just gone, so how does this square with the fact that for the first time since domestic test match coverage on television began there will be no cricket on any terrestrial TV channels because the ECB has just renegotiated the TV rights. This year you have to pay for the Sky Sports package to be able to watch any England cricket match, it will not be available on the free digital channels either which means cricket coverage like live premiership football before it will be exclusively the domain of one company namely Rupert Murdoch’s Sky. Hardly befitting of a national game. Channel 5 is entitled to show a 45 minute highlights program, but it does so at 7.15pm which clashes with news programs, soaps etc.

I am of the generation that remembers BBC cricket coverage where all Test Matches were shown in full as well as the highlights late in the evening. County Sunday League games were often shown as were the county knockout cup games. Cricket was seen by very many as being boring, the old cliché being ‘how can you have a game which lasts 5 days and then ends in a draw?’ The game has changed a little since then, changes in the rules now make 5 day draws considerably less likely and when they do happen they can be nail-biting. The recent Ashes again proved this with England winning one game in the last session when it looked like Australia might miraculously bat all day to save the match, whilst in the very next game Australia did indeed bat all day on the last day to save the match with only 1 wicket remaining.

Obviously it helps if you’re a fan and most peoplemoderately interested would agree that there needed to be a balance in coverage. However the test matches involving the national side are the Blue Riband event and you would have thought they would be prestigious enough to be vital to be shown on free to air tv. By the same token one might say that not everyone is ideologically opposed to getting Sky satellite tv as I am (I refuse to let anything of Murdoch’s knowingly in the house). It is true that these days so many houses have the trademark Sky dish on their outsides and because of the football long having been the domain of the satellite realm many people have upgraded the basic package to include also the sports channels, but a great many people have not.

This current football World Cup in Germany has been typified by the coming together of various nationalities in parks across Germany and watching games on huge public access tv screens which have been erected by the Germans for the event. In the UK every World Cup game has been shown either on BBC or ITV the standard free channels and whilst I am sure that this is something of a nghtmare for the football detesters there are I suspect few who would seriously begrudge the televising of the World Cup.

I guess the only hope is that when the Ashes takes place this Winter in Australia the British will embrace the same spirit as the Germans and put up large screens around receiving Sky Sports so that we can all enjoy it. Somehow I can’t see it happening.

Song Of The Day ~ Booker T & The MGs – Soul Limbo