At least the game this evening isn’t scheduled at the same time the England football team are playing, which means that it’s at least possible some will notice it happening. On the other hand, the television audiences for the football World Cup have been exceptional even in the games England haven’t been involved in. The Belgium – Japan second round match saw a peak of 12.4 million tune in, a figure exceeded in 2017 only by Blue Planet, the Strictly final and the launch of I’m a Celebrity.
Once again, it needs to be stated that the World Cup is special, and as a quadrennial event, can capture the public imagination like little else. Equally, England still being in the competition does affect the interest in other games, as people pay attention to what else is happening in the tournament while dreaming about future opponents. Nevertheless, the viewing figures are simply extraordinary, testament to the power of sport when made widely available. Of course, this isn’t a new complaint concerning cricket, and while it might well be a case of not wishing to start from where we currently are, it bears endless repeating when you have the likes of Colin Graves not being held account for comments such as these he made in 2016:
“We’d like to see some live cricket on terrestrial television, but Test cricket will not be on terrestrial television.
“The younger generation do not watch terrestrial television, they use social media. We have to take that into account. It will be a mix‑and-match situation for us to come up with the right formula.”
At the time he said this, few challenged it, beyond the usual minority groups often known as cricket supporters, plus a few others irrelevancies such as broadcast professionals. But they do not count of course, not when faced with the apologists for the cash cow that cricket has become, who parrot the same line in continuing defiance of reality. That Graves pretty much got away with it remains a disgrace, and this World Cup has highlighted repeatedly that the refrain from the ECB that young people wouldn’t watch terrestrial television to be just so much more utter horseshit from an organisation that specialises in repeatedly showering equine excrement at every opportunity.
Tonight it’s Belgium v Brazil, and without a shadow of a doubt the audience for that will be many, many times those watching the cricket involving our own country. Indeed, the principal rival for viewing figures will almost certainly be Wimbledon, followed by whatever else is on the terrestrial stations. The T20 will be a long way down the list.
There is not a thing wrong with having a balance in cricket formats, nor in broadcasting arrangements. Indeed there’s really nothing wrong with looking at all factors and deciding to just go for the cash, to say so would at least be honest about the position. What is, and what has always been the problem is the duplicity, evasion and pretence that it’s for the common good. The army of useful idiots who failed to hold them to account for flat out falsehoods can be added to the list of those caught out by the apparently surprising national appetite for freely available sporting drama. The kids in the parks currently playing football and dreaming of being Harry Kane are the reward for that access.
And what of the T20 itself? England were more or less hammered in the first one, unable to cope with spin, and unable to cope with India’s batting. It was a good day to bury bad news, that’s for sure. Whether tonight will be any better is an open question, but the true answer is that whatever the delights of cricket as a game we all love, right now barely anyone in this country cares. That’s not a problem during a World Cup, for no other sport can compete with it. It is a problem when no one cares and no one watches either. And of all the reasons behind that, it certainly isn’t because young people don’t watch terrestrial television. It never was. Enough with the excuses.