Search icon


05th Jul 2019

Making Cricket World Cup final free-to-air could give the sport the boost it needs

Reuben Pinder

This World Cup has not had its intended impact on the nation, but that could all change on July 14

In the build up to this summer’s Cricket World Cup, expectations for how the tournament might boost the sport’s popularity in the United Kingdom, as well as what England might achieve, were higher than ever.

The prospect of constant cricket on the TV at sold out grounds and an England side at the top of the world rankings with a middle order ram-packed with big hitters had the cricketing commentariat hoping that this would be the tipping point.

Alas, it has not quite happened as they had hoped. Expectations were possibly too high, given it had the Women’s football World Cup to compete with as well as the matches taking place during most people’s working hours.

But with the decision to make the final – on the condition of England getting there – free to air could prove to be exactly what cricket needs to push it back within reach of where it was in 2005.

This conversation always comes back to 2005, but for good reason.

That summer, when an underdog England side overcame Australia in the most thrilling Ashes series of all time, the entire nation was captivated. Millions of households nationwide had nothing but Channel 4 on for most of the summer holidays.

Children around the country wanted a blonde streak through their hair after watching Kevin Pietersen smash six after six straight over Glenn McGrath’s head at the Oval.

Who’s to say a good knock from Jason Roy in a World Cup final wouldn’t have the same effect this year?

Cricket’s drop off in popularity since that peak in 2005 and its removal from free to air TV are not mutually exclusive. With the sport already deemed elitist by many, the decision to move all formats, in particular the blood and thunder T20 franchise tournaments, to Sky and BT has not been helpful in the sport’s pursuit of inspiring the next generation.

Football’s huge market share on the nation’s consciousness will prevent it from ever suffering from the same decline. And plus, football has Match of the Day.

That allows young fans to see the vibrant colours of red and blue jerseys against lush green pitches, the beauty of the ball rippling through the net, all the things that made us fall in love with football, on their screens at least once a week.

Give them a glimpse of Ben Stokes in full swing, Jos Buttler doing his best impression of an octopus, or Jofra Archer unleashing a barrage of yorkers at David Warner, and we might just see a few more kids going to the park with a bat, a tennis ball wrapped in tape and a plastic crate.

The tournament has struggled to convert cricket sceptics as it had hoped to this far, but an England vs Australia final on the beeb could be a seminal moment for a sport trapped in a web of its own making.