“What Game Even Is That?”: Two Factors Needed To Save Cricket’s Future

Today new guest writer Jon Kuhrt explores a subject I’m sure is dear to all our hearts …

I play cricket each week on a ground where the game has been played since 1743. A couple of weeks ago, a group of local children came past the ground. We are used to hearing comments shouted out, but on this occasion something particularly struck me. One teenage girl turned to her friends and said:

‘What game even is that?’

Think cricket is boring? I understand that.

Shouting ‘You’re s**t arrghh’. No big problem.

But this girl did not even recognise what sport was being played.

Not even registering

Last week we saw England make a great start in the opening World Cup match v South Africa. It was half-term, so lots of kids were knocking about with little to do. In so many ways this was a dream opportunity for the game to connect with the whole country.

But how many young people actually got to see the win and Ben Stokes’ incredible catch? Sadly, hardly any.

Let’s be honest, if England do win the World Cup in a few weeks-time or the Ashes in a few months, it will probably not even register with a huge number of people in the UK.

As I have written before, the worst decision ever made by English Cricket was to switch from free-to-air TV and take Sky’s cash.

This is the key moment which shifted cricket from the nation’s summer game to an increasingly elitist sport. Those running English cricket saw the price of the contract but ignored the value of what they lost.

Public profile

In the era when cricket was on free-to-air TV, players had a national public profile far greater than the superstars of today. In 2005, I was one of thousands in a packed Trafalgar Square when England celebrated the epic Ashes win. It was national event because millions had been gripped by the spectacle of a great contest.

But this was the last summer like that because every series since has only been broadcast on Sky. England won the Ashes in 2009 but hardly anyone noticed.

Cricket’s popularity will never be equal to the passion for football.  But it has a very strong latent form of support which is awoken by great contests or characters like Ian Botham, Viv Richards or Andrew Flintoff who capture people’s imaginations.  It requires a platform which understands this.

Engaging younger players

One of the key reasons is that public profile is important is because it is directly linked to local involvement.

My school hardly played much cricket, but England’s win in the 1985 Ashes series helped inspire me, along with a group of school mates, to join the local cricket club, Addiscombe CC, in Surrey. In 1987 we won our league and ended up playing at The Oval, the same ground where we had seen David Gower lift the Ashes urn on the TV just two years before.

Thirty-two years later I am back at the same club I joined as a 14 year old. I manage a youth side and last year this team won the same league as I did as a player. I also Captain the 4th XI and central to this role is to encourage young players to make the step into adult cricket.

Challenges and opportunities

For generations, cricket has tinkered with its rules and formats to make it more interesting. In 1919, for example, the County Championship trialled 2 day matches to make the game more exciting.

I think the growth of t20 and innovations such as powerplays has been very positive. Also initiative like Chance to Shine, Street Cricket and All Stars have given kids some more opportunities to play the game.

But more significant than any of these initiatives, are two factors which will really secure the future of cricket. One is national and one local:

Firstly, we need a better national profile for the sport – and this means having tournaments like the World Cup and Ashes back on free-to-air TV. When the ECB selects the best deal, it should factor in the ability of millions to watch it, not just the thousands who access Sky. No clever marketing can beat the value of millions of people seeing Ben Stokes’ catch live in the context of a match.

But secondly, we need clubs which are relentlessly welcoming and friendly to new players.  We need clubs who are prepared to embody cricket’s unique potential as a force for social inclusion.

Social inclusion

More so than many sports, cricket can be genuinely inter-generational and kids can play competitively alongside people old enough to be their grandparents. This week, I had the great experience of opening the batting with my 14 year old son. It was fantastic – until I ran him out.

Also, cricket is uniquely inter-cultural with a huge number of black and minority ethnic people heavily involved. I have learnt more about Islam and Ramadan from playing cricket than from anywhere else. Where else do so many Muslims, Hindus, Christians and people of no faith come together?

Also, it’s a sport where women can play alongside men. Youth teams are frequently mixed and in my first league match this season I played against a young woman playing for her club’s 3rd XI. A Surrey player, Bryony Smith, has also played for our club’s 1st XI.

And it’s also a sport which can include people with disabilities. Already this season, I played a match against a skilful bowler with a physical disability and a regular player in our 4th XI is a young man with learning difficulties. His passion and enthusiasm for cricket is contagious. On Saturday he got his first league wicket helped by a brilliant boundary catch by a 14 year old colt. Even though we lost the match, this single moment made everyone’s day. It embodied what cricket can offer.

‘What game even is that?’

This will be an amazing summer for cricket with a home World Cup followed by The Ashes. Plus England have a genuinely exciting team we can be proud of.

‘What game even is that?’ is a question that needs to be answered.

And this is the job of both those who run the game nationally and those who run local clubs. We need both national profile to inspire young people and local clubs which welcome and include them. This is how young people will come to experience this great game for themselves and secure cricket’s future.

Jon Kuhrt


This article originally was published on Jon Kuhrt’s blog


  • Excellent article – agreed with every word. The ECB’s short sighted decision to cut the potential audience for their game by what – 90% perhaps – after 2005 would go down in history as the worst decision ever by a sport’s ruling body…until they invented ‘the 100’ to sabotage two successful white ball competitions they already have.

  • We keep banging on about the ECB being short-sighted but I think they know exactly what they are doing. Big contracts with cable TV means big windfalls for them too and in this age of ‘it’s all about me’ they are maximising their rewards.

    A collective value system will not work in a selfish culture and we are seeing the result in our cricket. If it gives any solace it is just one of many arenas; they say misery loves company and we have buckets of it.

  • The irony about the ECB’s desire to expand crickets audience is their apparent acceptance of the increasing monopoly Sky money has on both international and domestic sport, which certainly does not help expand its public involvement, despite Sky’s constant self publicity. The ECBs ‘want their cake and eat it too’ philosophy is in direct conflict with their policy to bring money into the game whilst expanding its influence simultaneously. Clearly the desire to encourage the cash cow of corporate ticket sales has had an effect on attendances at this World Cup, where apparent full houses have been sabotaged by people not turning up to take advantage of their freebies, so depriving genuine fans of the opportunity. It’s the Roy Keane prawn cocktail syndrome infiltrating cricket. Thankfully in this country we have extensive Asian and Caribbean communities nationwide which ensure decent atmospheres at many of the game’s which would otherwise be held in cavernous county championship attendance. This has nothing to do with the ECB and they can take no credit for it.

    • Marc, agree. Just watching highlights SA vs India at the Bowl. Lots of empty seats, absolutely appalling. I wonder how many India fans couldn’t get tickets because of corporate greed? Cricket really needs a thorough restructuring from top down including the supermarket managers and ex financiers running the ECB. Whoever wins this I seriously doubt that even 20% of the population will even know about it.

      • Interesting interview today with 2 ex England women internationals worried about the gaps appearing in their game’s structure. Apparantly there are plans to build centres of excellence around the country where marginal players are taken out of the county game and specially coached to improve skill levels. The problem they see is that those that don’t make it at the time are put back into a club scene that cannot at present sustain professional cricketers, so they have to find other employment and are drifting out of the game. This reduces the gene pool for county cricket and the professional game, creating a huge gap between club and county standards, just at a time when the game is looking to be an attractive proposition for talented youngsters to make a career. They say there is also a huge divide between north and south in terms of investment and participation which will only be exacerbated by this. Good to see players taking up the banner of ‘proper’ cricket. Wish we could here the men talking more like this and addressing their concerns about future direction of the game.

  • Interesting article.
    The FTA argument is lost unfortunately, because the FTA operators don’t want Test cricket – it messes up their schedules for little financial return, especially in an era when so many Tests don’t even make it into day 4. Channel 4 made a valiant effort but were criticised for insisting on a 6.30 finish which, quite reasonably, annoyed spectators at a ground bathed in sunshine who had lost the morning to bad light!
    The BBC has empty channels during the day and in the old days I’m sure would have used them to televise cricket. But the days when you could put a camera behind the bowler at each end and give Jim Laker a plate of ham sandwiches, a couple of cans of John Smith’s and leave him for the day are long gone. The modern audience demands instant slo mo replays, hawk eye et al, the cost of which the BBCcouldn’t possibly justify but which Sky can.
    I deprecate that fact that 2005 looks like being a high water mark in FTA coverage. That series really did ‘grip the nation’. I too was in Trafalgar Square (unlike KP and Freddie, I remember it too!) and the atmosphere was fantastic. (If England win the WC I wonder if the atmosphere will be the same.)
    I’m afraid that, as with so much in relation to cricket I am just glad to have lived through an era when I have seen so many great players; so many great Test matches – some live, some FTA – and built up such a wonderful store of cricketing memories !

    • Terrestrial channels have always been interested in test cricket, and they’ve bid for the rights, or shown interest in bidding before realising they couldn’t compete, on each occasion the rights have come up for grabs. The idea that terrestrial channels don’t want test cricket, after the success of 2005, is just propaganda.

      I spoke to Jarrod Kimber (who knows a thing or to about this) a couple of years back and he argued that test cricket is up to 5 days of relatively cheap programming. Broadcasters have several channels to fill these days, so the idea of wall to wall cricket is very appealing … IF they can get it for the right price. And that’s the problem. They can’t get it for an affordable price. So they no longer bother bidding.

      Might be worth googling the Sky deals / bidding process in 2009 and beyond. I did it earlier this year and found a few quotes by terrestrial TV execs expressing disappointment. Nobody but Sky bid in 2013 (think it was that year) as everyone else realised it was a waste of time, but even then one must ask this incredibly important question: if nobody else wanted to bid, why did Sky pay such a huge premium? This was pre-BT sport remember.

      These recent comments from Tom Harrison seem to confirm that test cricket’s absence from terrestrial TV is all about money & nothing to do with the fact that terrestrial channels might not want it https://thecricketpaper.com/features-and-columns/5761/ecb-chief-tom-harrison-concedes-terrestrial-tv-wouldnt-pay-enough-for-test-cricket-rights/ .

  • I fear that all that is said, quite correctly, in the article is just the tip of a sport which has been utterly corrupted. I am not talking about the players; the ball tampering, betting and other little transgressions are little different to the things which happened in the past – 19C betting made todays look minor and Compton was notorious for shining the ball with hair gel. But cricket administartion has generally been honest. However, the arrival of megabucks, especially in India, has corrupted cricket administration, perhaps irredeemably. The Indian Cricket Board was so corrupted its members were removed by court order – and India still, effectively, controls the ICC, albeit with what seems a more honest person. And the IPL, which sits at the base of the corruption (look at all the team scandals) has spread the virus beyond the sub continent, most obviously by removing key players (especially West Indian) from test cricket. I do not suggest that the ECB and its leaders are corrupt like some, but their decisions seem to have have been the result of what flows from the ICC.

    I cannot see a way out. Pandora’s Box has been opened and Harrison is just one of the minor demons it has unleashed.

  • Decent article but you fail to pick up that this constant drivel about shorter formats being more popular is wrong. Sir esome want to play it and good for them but there are equal amounts who have no interest.

    Plus, how are you going to give 11 people a decent game in short formats?? How will you convince them it’s worth £5 plus ?? Do you or anyone really think short formst will jeep the majority coming back for more year after year ??

    Answer.. no chance

    • I know this blog may not be representative of the broader public but traffic rarely goes up beyond a base level (i.e.the level we get when England aren’t playing) when ODIs and T20s are on. Traffic last month, for instance, even though the World Cup has started, was pretty much the same as it was in April when the County Championship began.

      When England are playing test matches, however, traffic goes up significantly – perhaps 50% or more. We also get more comments – although comments rarely correlate to traffic actually. Some articles get a lot of reads but relatively few comments and vice versa. It depends on how contentious / evocative the subject matter. Test cricket, however, never rarely fails to get people talking on here.

      • James, I don’t think it’s representative of the ‘nation’ but that’s not because anyone is stuck in a time warp etc. It sbecusee the majority simply don’t care or want to commit to playing much sport full drop.. regardless of sport. All amateur sport is dying in participation terms so Cricket isn’t unique.

        As for attendances, of course white ball games will be better attended as they loan themselves better to the casual fan who just wants a ‘day out’ and a shed load of beer (not to mention the football fan behaviour)

        Will cricket recover? No will in continue into the future? Yes. It’ll just be some watered down version suitable for a few pros , loads of admin staff and tv.

        Clubs are desperately trying to sell their youth systems and saying 2020 etc is what people want, and there is a section who will play that but out of the 500k players .. you will lose half as the game keeps shrinking towards shorter formats.

        Who will pay huh match fees for 2020? Who will turn up to do little to nothing ? Who will prepare a wicket etc ?

        I have noticed your articles on white ball get bugger all comments but tests are alive and well. It’s the same at our club when talking about England. Barely anyone mentions the World Cup or any white ball game but a test series (specifically the ashes).. always on the topic of conversation

  • Very good article, thanks for sharing it here.
    Like so many on here, I loved watching cricket on TV as a youngster and that early exposure to the game has left me with a love of the sport. I only ever played a tiny bit of low-level ladies cricket years ago. I cannot afford satellite TV, indeed I don’t even have a terrestial TV. Looking at ticket prices for England v NZ on July 3rd (at the nearest ground to me), I see it is about £150 for the cheapest ticket. Apparently the ICC bought up loads of tickets for all the games and sold them on to agencies such as Viagogo and Ticketmaster. I read somewhere else that a pint at The Oval will set you back £7.50. So people who love the game but don’t have much money cannot get to see any at all. Pensioners such as my elderly father used to love watching the Test matches on BBC and then C4. All we have left our highlights packages, which I get from the BBC website. Is there not some way that coverage could be shared ?
    All in all, cricket is fading from the public conscience. Freddie Flintoff was the last cricketer to win Sports Personality of the Year. One wonders how many younger people now know the names of some of England’s star players. We could do with a British-Asian media mogul who loves cricket so much that he/she creates their own TV channel for live cricket.
    I cannot see the situation changing any time soon. Such a shame when one thinks of the anodyne rubbish that fills many a daytime TV schedule. I was sad to see that TMS no longer seems to have the rights to do commentaries on England’s overseas matches.

  • ECB and ICC are only in it for the money. I can’t even listen to the TMS World Cup commentary as the content isn’t available in my country apparently. How can the ECB/ICC say that they want to spread the game when all they do is limit because of their greed for money. Let’s face it The 100 isn’t going to bring in any new supporters.

  • Really superb article. As a Old Fart I would be delighted if Sky was kicked into touch. They are calling all the shots and it must stop. I can actually do without most of the gimmicks like ultra edge and snicky dicky which were supposedly designed to help umpires (and avoid bad decisions) but which are there basically because Sky loves ’em as they give their ever expanding crew of commentators something to exercise their gabble boxes over.
    Bear in mind that the vast majority of cricket matches are not televised so what you see on the screen is not representative of the ‘normal’ game.
    I think it would help if the game had fewer petty laws and regulations and flowed with the minimum amount of interruptions.
    Have we passed the point of no return? I would like to think not. People thought the Berlin Wall would last for many more years.

  • Whatever sport you are trying to get youngsters involved in it seems to me there are 2 provisos in order to sustain interest. The first is you have to win major trophies so the publicity factor gets to work and the 2nd is you need personalities that kids can identify with. The decline in kids footie can partly be put down to the rise in overseas platers, who flit in and out of the game too quickly for anyone but committed supporters to get excited about. Here today gone tomorrow is not going to sustain interest.
    Cricket has different issues, in that it is a short season with limited exposure, however for much of it the kids are on holiday and generally the weather is good, so why aren’t they out in parks and gardens with bat and ball? The most recent problem is parents don’t let their kids play out any more for fear of paedophiles, but are quite happy to see them locked away in dark rooms playing shoot-em-up computer games. To me however the most problematic issue is the decline in sport as played in schools, where nothing seems to be encouraged if it involves someone losing, as this had a debilitating effect on confidence and personality. I don’t know about you dear readers but I played most of my cricket as a youngster with schoolmates either at school, down the local park or in the back yard. You could even practice on your own throwing or bowling a ball against a wall and batting off the rebound. It was hardly red ball stuff but we played around with the rules to make it more exciting. Every game seemed to have its own set of special rules, depending on the size or area you had to play in, the most common back garden one being 6 and out into a neighbour’s. I know this all seems as rose tinted as the ‘coats for goalposts’ syndrome but it was huge sociable fun and something we looked forward to during the long summer holidays that made them different from other holidays.
    This decline has a debilitating effect on recruiting youngsters to play for their local clubs etc etc. Also the rise in professionalism has certainly seen a decline in the maverick personality that drew kids into most sports. As kids we wanted to copy their larger than life antics on the field, not the mundane stuff of the majority.

  • Cricket is just one of those institutions which has suffered in our society. But for the same reason. The market has been put before the deliverance of the sport and how it is run. You could replicate that ideology in education and the health service. Schools should be not run on market principles. Neither should the health service. It’s not appropriate. Other factors are more important such as relevance to society and quality of life including equality of life. The governing ethos of our society doesn’t care about the popularity of cricket only about its availability to the elite. They really have no interest in Northern working class clubs for example. They destroyed the Durham County team in a move to reduce the number of Test grounds from 9 to 8 to suit The Hundred and Hampshire and to prevent Hampshire’s relegation. If that’s not corruption what is? On this corrupt basis The Hundred motors on destroying everything in its path including the County Championship and the Blast and even 50 over cricket next year. It’s only about money and the money instinct above everything else. There are good decent voices in opposition and there are even good voices who are silent because cricket is a polite and friendly forum. I wouldn’t change that but our sport is being destroyed. It’s run by businessmen and we are coming to the end of that era but not soon enough. These businessmen feel entitled and believe in their market economy being extended to all areas of society. The idea of inclusion is anathema to them. I know because the same principle applies to the arts. Until this is grasped by those who love cricket the game will be out of the world of those who can’t afford Sky. It will take a real movement against this principle to change things. Our society is being gutted of quality by those running it on the profit principle. I’m sure that there are enough cricket lovers to put the game first. The Hundred is threatening the soul of our game. We have to oppose it. It’s the dregs of where we are in this market madness. Sky is at the heart of the promotion of The Hundred. I believe it’s a step too far. The few games granted to the BBC is a bribe to get fans to accept it. I remember cricket as a popular sport played absolutely everywhere like it is played in India. It was played in parks by kids and in backstreets. It was everywhere and loved by children. It’s not true that football was more popular. It was the summer sport and football the winter sport. What’s not mentioned is that the assault on cricket began in the early Eighties with the economic drive to monetise state schools which were forced to sell off assets such as their playing fields to developers. Gradually cricket disappeared from state schools and out of the curriculum. This suited the narrowing down of the curriculum in state education removing the arts and music provision. But the thinking didn’t include what’s good for the game or the children. It’s been a dreadful era for society at large because other sports have suffered too. Money will always buy propaganda hence the millions to push The Hundred. But in the end it is self defeating. We need to get youth on our side to fight for the game.

    • Jackie wonderful stuff, you’re absolutely right. All I can add is that the 100 and T20 are yet another symptom of today’s “instant/I want it all now/me” society. If you keep feeding people junk they just want more of it. Things must pay their way, but not at the expense of flogging crickets soul to mamon. Sports bodies like everyone have a duty to educate people that there is more to life than just making mega bucks.

  • Great posts from Marc and Jackie. I rarely see any kids with bat and ball in the local parks, you would still see a few back around the time of the 2005 Ashes. Although vast numbers of houses have satellite dishes, this doesn’t mean that any of the occupants are in to cricket. Even TMS is suffering, they no longer have the rights for England’s overseas tours and apparently only England’s games at the World Cup are on the old R4 longwave frequency.
    From what I have read about the Hundred, it sounds dreadful. I don’t mind T20 and like 50 overs and surely these two shorter formats are enough. Which top England players will be in the Hundred if it clashes with international matches ?
    Saddens me to think that the wonderful sport of cricket has been hidden behind a paywall and that the less well off cricket fan such as I is priced out of seeing any.
    Agree with what others said on here about the awful names which have been chosen for The Hundred franchises.

  • Look at all the empty seats !!!

    On a Saturday

    World Cup as popular as ever ! Lol

    • The prime problem here is not lack of interest, but stupid ticket prices. I would love to go to Edgbaston and watch England v India at the end of this month but cannot afford to fork out the £300 for a single ticket. In contrast an Ashes test match ticket in August will cost me less than £100, which I can afford.
      We have seen this in previous world cups, especially in India and the West Indies, where incomes are generally low, yet the money grabbing philosophy continues with the corporate obsessed organisers. I remember a few matches in those countries where trees around the half empty stadiums were littered with precariously perched spectators who couldn’t afford a ticket. So much for the ‘game of the people’ these idiots are trying to promote.

      • And why should you fork out £300 when, for similar money, you can get Sky Sports for a year and watch all the games with a decent view. And that is ignoring all the other sport you can get during that year.
        Please do not take this as a defence of having no FTA coverage, but £300 is ridiculous. I can take myself, my father and my daughter to hospitality at West Brom (including an excellent meal, parking and best seats) for that price.

        • I don’t like to compare cricket with footie as one lasts a lot longer then the other and there are better facilities for the average punter to make things a more complete watching experience at most county grounds than most Premiership football grounds, where you are packed in like sardines and subject to a lot of hostile behaviour from opppoition fans. This can be quite exhilarating in its way, but cricket is altogether a more civilised if less intense affair.
          I would probably have been prepared to pay £300, which works out at about £40-50 an hour for world class sport, if I was in better paid work, but like most people I don’t have that kind of disposable income without resorting to the ol’ credit card, which I don’t trust myself with. But imagine if you wanted to take your father and daughter to the match. You could get a decent holiday for less. To me there is no excuse for what I see as blatantly uncivilised prejudice.
          The problem is the game will probably be billed as a sell out. I know when I looked up prices a few weeks ago there were precious few tickets left.

          • I had not considered the price of 3 of us going to the cricket! Only one objection to your analysis; hospitality at The Hawthorns is very civilised. We only do it occasionally because my elderly father cannot manage the steps in the stand, which is also why I no longer get him to Edgbaston.

            • But you’re going to hospitality, not sitting in the stands with limited access to overpriced pies and tea. Anyway Black Country hospitality is renowned compared to us anti-social Brummies, though did go to the Hawthorns for the derby this year and wasn’t particularly impressed, having expected more from time in the Premiership to improve things for the spectator.
              Having had a new hip this year very conscious of ‘special needs’ at grounds.
              It seems to me clubs are more concerned with creating behind the scenes money makers than comfort for the taken for granted fans who turn up in their thousands whatever the circumstances.

              • Agreed. If we were just going without hospitality all 3 of us could do 5 games for £300!

                Access is a problem. Fortunately Edgbaston have been very helpful with the seniors club my father attends, providing access to the members pavilion with the lift and catering. But better access to the rest of the ground (lifts or escalators as at newer stadia) would be so useful for those with restricted mobility but not in wheelchairs. You would hope some of the ECB profits could be directed to such modernisation.

  • Just read an interesting article in ‘The Cricketer’ alleging that AB De Villiers offered his services to South Africa for this World Cup just before they selected their final 15. The management refused apparantly on the grounds that he had not played enough domestic cricket to qualify, so it would be unfair to players who had. Would be interesting to speculate on what the English media’s attitude would have been here under those circumstances had De Villiers been English and we had refused the services of the world best 1 day batsman in favour of picking a player like JP Dummini, especially now their team looks down and out. It just shows our ECB do have rivals in the strange decision League.

  • Wretched apology for The Hundred printed by the Guardian. Emma John yet again puts on a front of being all whimsical but ends up serving the interests of the rich-and-powerful.


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