TV made cricket a far more sim­ple game to fol­low

The Cricket Paper - - RESULTS & OPINION - SIMON SWEET­MAN The ed­i­tor of Cricket Statis­ti­cian analy­ses re­cent events

You can’t see cricket on free-toair TV, cer­tainly not live cricket. Some have ar­gued that this is a root cause of the lack of in­ter­est in the game among the younger gen­er­a­tion, but it is con­tentious whether this mat­ters. The fact that young­sters can name wrestlers rather more read­ily than they can name crick­eters seems slightly ir­rel­e­vant, as wrestling is not on free-to-air TV ei­ther. And tele­vi­sion is of rather less in­ter­est to the young than it was: there’s plenty of cricket on YouTube if you want to watch it.

When I was young cricket was in­deed on tele­vi­sion, and there was lit­tle else to dis­tract you. It might well be the only thing that was on tele­vi­sion, cer­tainly be­fore ITV, and prob­a­bly for some time after as the day­time hours were not much used – surely only sports nuts would watch TV in the day­light hours, which in any case was seen as slightly im­moral be­hav­iour.

Be­fore the war, with no tele­vi­sion, re­stricted to ra­dio and news­pa­per cov­er­age, boys in the street could play cricket and im­per­son­ate their heroes who they had never seen live or in most cases on mov­ing pic­tures, just blurry shots in the news­pa­pers or per­haps on a cig­a­rette card. For sports lovers the only al­ter­na­tive was foot­ball, even more rarely avail­able than cricket, and then of course once TV be­came more wide­spread the FA took steps to make sure that with very few ex­cep­tions it was ab­so­lutely not to be seen. Box­ing was more widely known then, but not given great cov­er­age.

For most of the 1950s and 1960s it was not just that cricket was on tele­vi­sion, it was al­most the only sport on tele­vi­sion reg­u­larly, es­pe­cially in the sum­mer and ex­cept for Wim­ble­don fort­night (which as far as most were con­cerned was the only time of year that any­body any­where played ten­nis). So in the sum­mer hol­i­days, if you were not out on the street play­ing, you watched cricket.

The great change came when the foot­ball au­thor­i­ties re­alised that tele­vi­sion was of­fer­ing great pots of gold, and that foot­ball on TV would not mean that foot­ball grounds emp­tied (though of course we still have, at 3pm on Satur­day, the one time that foot­ball can­not be shown). Live foot­ball au­di­ences had grown big­ger than the crowds for cricket by the First World War, and 90 min­utes on a Satur­day af­ter­noon was eas­ier than half a day at the cricket.

Maybe we have to avoid look­ing at ev­ery­thing through the prism of 2005 and think­ing that year was the nat­u­ral state of things. Per­haps that was just a suc­cess with the au­di­ence in the way that odd Olympic sports are sud­denly on ev­ery­one’s lips when a rare Bri­tish suc­cess comes along.

High­light: 2005 Ashes

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