SportAdam Short

Super Over Supernova

England's victory in the men's Cricket World Cup final was a remarkable advert for the game. Is there a case to get it back on free-to-air TV?

Super Over Supernova

What a weekend of sport. A Wimbledon Men's final classic, a thrilling British F1 race won by a Brit and England's women continuing to tear up the early stages of the Netball World Cup. But shining brightly over all of this was an astonishing game of cricket at Lord's, its fabled home.

England not stinking up a Cricket World Cup is newsworthy enough. Winning the thing is pure, unbounded joy for those who have followed our national team. The game itself beggar's belief. England's win coming after a torturous run chase, with previously free-flowing batsmen seemingly paralyzed by a slow, grippy wicket and the pressure of the occasion. Two of our golden boys; Ben Stokes and Jos (God) Buttler calmed us all down by showing wonderful composure through a 100 run partnership. But then, this period of calm was torn apart by a breathless, madcap finale: a catch that became a 6; a freak deflection that turned a 2 into a six; a very rare tie followed by ANOTHER in the super over; rounded off by England winning on a slightly arbitrary technicality. Cue utter mayhem in the ground and in households around the Country (a squeal and a rather painful knee slide in my house since you asked).

And what made this even more special, was that millions MORE households - 8 million at its peak - were able to watch the game due to the decision to broadcast the final on Free to Air TV. A brave, though also canny move by Sky to open up the rights to Channel 4 for this one-off occasion. The first time those without Sky Sports have been able to watch live England Cricket for 14 years.

But should it be a one off? Is there a case to get cricket back on free-to-air TV? This admittedly ardent Cricket lover would like to make the case for cricket as a "public service". I'll come onto why but first let's acknowledge this: it's not a simple sport to broadcast. The economics are tricky. Even the shortest formats require significant resource and a test match remains an uncompromising 5-day commitment. It's appropriate to acknowledge the fabulous job that Sky have done supporting, celebrating, educating (the Masterclasses are just PERFECT) and of course funding the game.

It's also fair to say that the final doesn't reflect all games of cricket. Some, like any sport, are a bit shit. The aforementioned 5-day games are certainly an acquired taste.

But there are many reasons to embrace the game of cricket as a nation and for our free-to-air, public service broadcasters to consider its value…

Promoting diversity. The English team is often criticized for having "adopted" players, from Kevin Pietersen to Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer. Putting aside the debates about nationality they all represented England with pride. And they represent a deeper truth about cricket. It's one of the most open, diverse and welcoming sports. Moeen Ali addresses this in his recent article: "In the England dressing room it does not matter where you come from or what you believe in if you show courage, unity and respect". This multiculturalism was also on show at the grounds, from Durham to Hampshire. The South Asian fans in particular, were out in force, mixing with fans of other teams in a friendly, celebratory way. This created a vocal, vibrant atmosphere at a huge majority of the games.

Ultimately, Cricket is great at bringing people together and this makes the occasion family friendly. Yes, the sound of champagne corks popping is not uncommon at Lords and the "beer snake" is frequent visitor to raucous grounds like Edgbaston, but there's none of the edge that you can feel at other sporting events. There's humour, bonding with strangers and grace in victory or defeat (most of the time).

Which brings me on to the spirit of the game. It does sound a bit pompous and can be easily undermined by hotly competitive on field behaviour. The recent furor around the Australian national team (Sandpapergate) being a case in point. However, it was the depth of hurt that the Australian public felt that shows the values of fairness, honesty and trust run deep through the game. The New Zealand team and their hugely admirable captain Kane Williamson were widely acknowledged to have shown great sportsmanship and dignity through the tournament and in what must have been a devastating final.

Finally, and fanboyishly, the game itself, once you get to know it, is a thing of utter beauty. At times tactical and tense, at others astonishingly athletic and brutal. The psychology of the sport is so interesting. There are broader team dynamics but often more individual, personal battles. Bowlers can have "bunnies", players they're known to have a good record against. Batsmen can "break the will" of a fielding side by choosing to play certain shots at certain times. Field placings can get "funky" just to get into the head of the opposition. There are a lot of laws (some arcane and some odd) but there's also so much to learn for the uninitiated.

It's difficult to see a world where the BBC or C4 can invest heavily in cricket on TV but I hope the ECB can see that having a share of coverage on FTA will showcase this magnificent sport to more people, more often and create longer term value for the game. This is a moment to capitalize on the excitement generated by England's win. Don't let the star burn out.

 

Adam Short

Managing Director, 2CV London