“WOULD this make you vote for them?” someone asked on Twitter.
The Labour party had just pledged to restore the Cricket World Cup final to the list of “crown jewel” events on free-to-air television.
“Sport enriches our lives, binds communities together and helps us all to stay healthy,” the party had declared in its 107-page election manifesto, published last Thursday.
“We will add the ICC Cricket World Cup to the list of crown jewel sporting events that are broadcast free-to-air.”
As much as a manifesto pledge can be trusted these days, which is to say not in the slightest, this one at least held a certain appeal for those of us who enjoyed watching Eoin Morgan’s England win the World Cup last summer.
The final against New Zealand at Lord’s on July 14 was actually on free-to-air thanks to rights-holder Sky allowing it to be screened on Channel 4, too, following pressure from within the game for “the good of the game”.
It was the first time that a live international cricket match had been on free-to-air since the 2005 Ashes, with viewing figures on Channel 4 peaking at around 4.5m.
Curiously enough (and I know you’re not going to believe this), that final gave cricket more of a boost, more of a shot-in-the-arm, more exposure than anything done by the England and Wales Cricket Board since they sold it off to Sky’s subscription service 14 years ago, thereby proving that nothing beats the oxygen of free-to-air publicity.
The whole cricket on free-to-air debate, of course, continues to go back and forth like a tennis rally.
“Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have one Test a year brought out from behind the Sky paywall?” asked Ian Lucas, the former MP for Wrexham, recently, arguing that it would help to inspire new fans in line with the ECB’s own Inspiring Generations strategy.
“No,” replied the ECB’s top brass, pointing out that it would cost the governing body circa £50m a year.
Indeed, the next television rights deal from 2020-2024 is worth around £1.1bn to the sport due overwhelmingly to Sky’s ongoing commitment.
Other questions include... “Would terrestrial broadcasters actually want to bid for Test cricket anyway?”
“Wouldn’t there be scheduling issues for terrestrial broadcasters, thus potentially minimising the amount of cricket that people could watch?”
And, from the ECB’s perspective, perhaps the biggest question of all: “What is the right balance to strike between reach and revenue?”
As sports minister Nigel Adams reflected last summer: “Would we like everything to be free? Of course we would, but that’s not the real world.”
Sky, it should be said, do a magnificent job of covering the game; it is easy to take the routine excellence of their product for granted.
I can barely remember a single glitch, audio or visual, in all the years that I’ve been watching it and they pretty much have every angle covered.
But with the BBC having won the rights to broadcast T20 internationals and some matches in the new 100-ball competition that starts next year, perhaps the zeitgeist is starting to change.
Who knows, perhaps we could even see one Test match per year on free-to-air television in the not-too-distant future, say when the next rights deal is negotiated for 2025 onwards.
It could be pie-in-the-sky talk on my part, but it would be lovely to think so.
To return to the initially posed question, though, “Would this make you vote for them?”, ie Labour and their pledge to make the cricket World Cup final free-to-air, then my answer is “No”.
Or at least they woul d have to do a darn sight more than that from a cricketing point of view.
My own politics, for what it’s worth, has reached the point where I rather fear that those who campaigned so hard for the right to vote could well have been wasting their time in my case.
Indeed, I find being asked to choose between Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems and so on a bit like being asked to choose which method of capital punishment one would prefer to suffer should the circumstance arise.
“Would the defendant prefer the electric chair, the guillotine or death by 1,000 cuts?”
“Er, the guillotine, please, Your Worship… and thanks very much for asking.”
No, if I was going to vote for a political party based purely on what they did for cricket, then I would have several requirements in addition to making the World Cup final one of the “crown jewels”.
Let me see now…
Well, I’d want The Hundred scrapped for starters. Can you promise me that, Mr Corbyn, me old china?
I’d also want pressure put on the International Cricket Council to scrap the preposterous World Test Championship.
With its unequal points system and distribution of games, this is providing only confusion to Test cricket, not greater context, its supposed raison d’etre.
I would want better over-rates, to ensure that spectators get their money’s worth at fixtures.
These days, it’s a minor miracle if they see 90 overs in a day even in glorious weather, and for too long the sport’s administrators have not been strong enough in this respect.
I’d want to see less international cricket, too, for there is far too much of it in my view, particularly the white-ball stuff, with meaningless series taking place left, right and centre.
T20 international cricket, in particular, has little context or meaning compared to its franchise equivalent; T20 does not lend itself as well to the international format.
I’d also want to see more England players playing county cricket, more County Championship matches, and more attention paid to what long-suffering county members actually want to see.
They certainly don’t want The Hundred judging by all the opinion polls; in fact, they detest the very thought of it and the damage it threatens to other formats.
As I say, I have no particular preference who wins the election on December 12. It seems to me that one is essentially voting for the same thing: incoherent parties whose chief interest is in slagging off other parties, along with ineffective leaders.
The subject of ineffective leaders brings me nicely back to the ECB, not least for their foisting on Joe Public of a 100-ball competition that no-one seems to want apart from those who seek to gain from it financially.
The PR for that competition has been bewilderingly bad at times; so much so, they could have done worse than to enlist the assistance of Prince Andrew.
And another thing...
MOUNT MAUNGANUI, venue for the first Test match between England and New Zealand, has looked an absolute picture on television (alas, not free-to-air television).
One writer covering the game said that it has had the feel of a festival match at Scarborough, Swansea or Southend-on-Sea; it’s certainly a world away from the vast, sweeping venues in which much of Test cricket has historically been staged.
It just goes to show that, when push comes to shove, you can’t beat cricket in an outground-style setting.
The County Championship just looks better at somewhere like Scarborough than it does, say, at a Test venue in Yorkshire 70 miles down the road.
That is not to disparage that ground; indeed, Emerald Headingley is now one of the finest stadiums in England, if not the world.
But no Test headquarters – not even Lord’s – has the same intimacy as a Mount Maunganui or North Marine Road.
Spectators feel part of the action at such places; not apart from it.
It will never happen, of course, but wouldn’t it be lovely to see a Test match at Scarborough?
The attention of the world focused on the jewel in Yorkshire’s cricketing crown.