Freakish World Cup one-off won’t bring the legion of new fans cricket needs

John Nicholson
Jos Buttler England Cricket World Cup final

After the quite incredible World Cup final and a TV audience across the channels of around eight million, the airwaves have been full of people saying how they hope lots of kids will now be turned on to cricket and others will have their interest renewed.

Now, I don’t wish to rain on this parade and I’m a big fan of free-to-air sport, partly because it has great potential to inspire people to be more active and play sport, but let’s be honest, one game isn’t likely to do much apart from spike interest for a short time.

Cricket has been starved of exposure not just since 2005 but since 1999 and the dissolution of interest and passion for the game across a whole generation will not be overcome with one extraordinary game. It will need years of constant exposure to a maximised audience for that to happen.

And there’s another problem too – cricket isn’t usually anywhere near that exciting, as we all know. But if you’ve not watched it for a long time or ever, The final may have sold the game on a bit of a false prospectus, meaning that when such people next watch a more typical game it may feel like a bit of a letdown. If eight million had watched and enjoy a more typical game, perhaps it would have been better for the future of the game.

And a further issue which muddies the waters substantially is that unlike other sports such as football, there are different varieties of cricket, often appealing to different audiences. Enjoying the 50-over game isn’t the same as enjoying the four-or-five-day game, nor the brutal slogging of Twenty20 or next year, The Hundred. It’s alright saying you hope it spreads the interest in cricket per se, but that’s much harder to do when you’ve such different formats.

Fifty-over cricket is the only white ball cricket I really like as it allows a least some time to build an innings. I have little interest in the thrash-n-grunt game. This just all helps hold a new audience at arm’s length. Where does someone whose interest has been piqued by the World Cup go next? How do they choose which format to watch? Even a Test series like the Ashes will seem by comparison a very different animal. A long, low-scoring afternoon session disrupted by rain will not stir the newbie’s blood.

For cricket to attract and hold a new far larger audience, we need the game to be understood and appreciated when it isn’t a one-off thriller. This will simply take time. It will not be achieved by the thrash-o-nomics of The Hundred or even by T20. We need to think of them as separate sports to 50-over cup cricket and especially to county or Test cricket. To hold a large audience for cricket a large audience needs properly educating about it and that can’t happen overnight.

In fact, if the final had got eight million watching for a game that was quite dull, it would’ve suggested people were enjoying the timeless pleasures of the game, rather than getting high on the incredible tension and adrenaline of the final.

True aficionados don’t love cricket only for the thrilling games and if anyone thinks pretty much any game is ever going to be anything like New Zealand v England was, they’re in for a surprise. Until a variety of forms of the game are commonly available for all on television for many seasons, it will likely remain on the sidelines. As much as we’d all like it to be the case, you can’t just pull one World Cup lever and instantly reverse a long-established trend.

By John Nicholson

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