When I was growing up, cricket was on the TV. I was born in 1993, and that meant that in 2005 when Andrew Flintoff set the country on fire during the Ashes, I was 12.
And I could watch every ball on Channel 4.
Cricket was on the front and back pages, and a large element of that, was accessibility.
People who had never seen cricket before, or those who had but weren’t ‘cricket fans’, watched it. Everyone was talking about it.
Millions won’t have access to often extortionate services like Sky, and therefore, many won’t go out of their way to watch the Cricket World Cup, in the way they watched the Ashes in 05.
Indeed, even Jonny Bairstow in his Telegraph column tapped into this disconnect, saying that players haven’t been able to watch the Cricket World Cup.
This is not just sad, but counter-productive, as resources are pumped into engaging young people to get into a cricket – which let’s face it – isn’t cheap to play, and can often result in hours of standing round doing nothing.
Cricket needs every bit of help keeping young people engaged.
What’s more, the UK is a very diverse place. We have big cities with ethnically diverse populations, large Indian and Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Caribbean communities, not to mention to pockets of those from the commonwealth.
We could, and should, be the perfect place for a World Cup. Many of the nations’ fans already here – to enrich it, and when India played Pakistan, we saw this very clearly. It was amazing to watch.
Were it not for the fact I am a cricket fan however, I probably wouldn’t realise this World Cup is on.
It hasn’t ignited the country like an Ashes series.
It hasn’t found its way onto billboards across the country.
Nor has it been a talking point in the pubs and on the streets.
This isn’t a reflection of quality – which by-and-large has been sound.
It speaks to the fact, that this tournament has not been accessible.
It hasn’t been visible to the ordinary fan, to the occasional fan, or the non-cricket fan, who stumbles across it while flicking through the channels. And it would appear, not even to some players. If you weren’t aware of it, you might not even know it’s on.
But what about Women’s Football I hear you ask?
I am not the biggest football fan in the world. I’m not an expert, and certainly not when it comes to Women’s Football.
But on a quiet night when there’s not much on the TV, I’ll happily tune into any sport I come across.
It’s no surprise to me, that millions have watched the Women’s World Cup. Is the quality of football the best? No. It can be very scratchy and scrappy.
But there was a record-breaking peak of 7.6m watching England beat Norway.
It just so happens, it is on the BBC. Free-to-air TV.
The BBC outlines that audiences have also been growing in the UK when England play. There was 6.1 million against Scotland, 6.9 million against Cameroon, and 7.6m against Norway.
The crunch question, is how many would have watched these game had it been on Sky or BT Sport?
I’d hesitate to suggest, the figure would be lower.
People wouldn’t have watched it if it wasn’t there on the BBC One at a prime time.
Men’s cricket is a more established sport that Women’s Football in the UK, with more resources and more coverage. Of that there is little debate. But it’s also becoming incredibly a closed shop.
It’s only open to those who can afford it, whether that be shelling out on pricey equipment, Sky and BT Sport subscriptions, or ticket prices for this World Cup, which were regularly upwards of £100 (and hard to get hold of.
The paradox of this Cricket World Cup, is there is still huge untapped interest, despite it being one of the world’s biggest sports, owing to its large south Asian following.
Especially from second and third generation migrant communities in the UK, interest is squandered, partially due to a lack of access and routes into the game.
Whatever one’s criticism of Women’s Football, it has one thing right. It’s bringing the sport TO the public.
It’s making sure that interest is being generated, and it’s growing through that exposure.
Cricket’s is not just contracting, but it’s arrogantly assuming that it doesn’t need to keep on enfranchising people.
It must get back onto free-to-air TV in some capacity and its growth must be protected.