The England cricket team has been forced to deal with news that in previous years would have proved devastating: James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson is likely to be out of the upcoming Test series against South Africa after sustaining a groin injury that has also forced him to withdraw from Lancashire’s County Championship division one match with Yorkshire next week.
Clearly, this is not a great situation for new England test captain Joe Root to have to deal with, and in many ways, the lack of outcry and disappointment regarding the news shows just how low down the agenda Test cricket seems to have slipped. If this had been a blow to the ICC Champions Trophy or perhaps even the Ashes (the only Test series that generates huge headlines in the UK), then perhaps this injury would be dominating the back pages of the papers and causing great consternation amongst cricket fans.
What Factors Lie Behind This Malaise?
Cricket in the UK has long been seen as a gentleman’s sport, but that has not held it back from gathering an enormous fan base in the UK, with big Test matches previously sold out and events like the Ashes and the Cricket World Cup all generating news headlines. There has also been intense betting interest generated from within the UK, with odds available on countless outcomes. If you take a look at the Coral betting information for cricket fans you’ll see evidence of this – with England currently 11/4 favourites to lift the ICC Champions trophy on home soil and the bookmaker offering a £20 welcome bonus to new users.
However, the issue in more recent times seems to have stemmed from cricket popping behind paywall TV, where it has arguably struggled to increase its audience. The decision of those involved in the sport to take big money is, of course, logical. However, in a country where cricket has to compete with football, rugby, and the resurgence of sports like cycling and athletics, cricket has struggled in part to convince younger fans to enjoy the game.
Does T20 Show the Way Forward?
These issues aren’t easy to overcome, but they are not insurmountable. In fact, cricket has already managed to appeal to different audiences thanks to the exciting format of the T20 Natwest Blast games, but even these are still behind a paywall, which is why the latest change to a city-based T20 tournament includes the provision that some of the games must be on free-to-air TV.
Should this new tournament be successful and fans start watching the games on TV in droves, then the opportunity is surely there to start encouraging Sky to share live coverage, or indeed relinquish live coverage of some Test matches to try and keep a wider appeal for them.
A blueprint for success in this can be seen in football, with BT struggling to keep ratings high for the Champions League and Europa League compared to the shared viewing from ITV and Sky in the past, which had an element of the games on free to air TV and helped to keep the Champions League relevant in the wider football landscape.
Making this kind of decision with Test cricket matches could just be the catalyst to help make the discussions regarding what to do in the future if England’s leading wicket taker gets injured in the build up to a major Test series relevant again, especially if it happens against the number two ranked side in the world.