Tuesday, September 13, 2005

13 September 2005: Ashes

England won the Ashes. (In case you somehow managed to miss the blanket coverage in the UK news.)

So despite the busyness of life generally, the downtime of the Citeseer server specifically, the impending fuel crisis in the UK (I'd better be able to get to the Cathedral on Thursday) and the fact that it's the middle of September, the cricket took centre stage yesterday as it has done increasingly over the summer. The fact is this: cricket doesn't get any better than this, or any bigger than this. This is it.

The momentum has grown through the summer, from the defeat in the first match right through England's close victories and almost-victories to yesterday's thank-goodness-Warne-dropped-that-catch moment, which would have seen the series probably go the other way. The nation is captured, perhaps more so than when England won the Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago: this happened here, in England, against the number one team in the world, and it was the first time we've beaten them in a series for eighteen years. And the sad thing is, that's it.

In many ways it's a shame. Football takes over - Champions League tonight - and there's no more cricket (apart from a few county games) until the winter tours of Pakistan and India, and next summer's series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Not quite the same. And what's worse is that those games will only be on Sky's subscription-based stations. The eight-million-plus audience of yesterday will be reduced to a little over one million next summer, and the interest will wane, just as it has done with boxing and rugby league over the years. Yesterday was not only the last day of the greatest series I've ever known, it was the last day of cricket on normal TV in the UK. No more Richie Benaud, no more leaving for three minutes to show some minor horse race, no more having to finish at six o'clock so they can show The Simpsons. No more cricket, except for the highlights on Five, presumably with Jonny Gould and John Barnes providing commentary?

It's a shame, and I mean that - it's shameful - that the cricket authorities have opted for money over exposure, without realising that you need exposure to bring the next generation of fans to the game. Without TV coverage, I'd never have followed the disastrous Ashes series of 1989 and thence every tour since. Test Match Special is good, but you need the pictures. Unless something is done, this will be the end of cricket in this country, at least as a major sport. Short-term gain outweighs long-term health, say the ECB. What does that say to today's young fans?

Yesterday was a climax, and after every climax there is a coming-down. I just fear for how far English cricket will fall from this great, perhaps final, height.

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