With the news that the upcoming England-India test series will be shown live on Channel 4, Sam Elliott outlines why the move should be celebrated by cricket fans old and new.
As the curtains came down on the most sensational of Ashes series, the end was beckoning for Channel 4’s six year stint as the hive for test cricket in the UK.
Having consumed as much cricket as possible in the prior years, I, like the 8.4 million viewers that were drawn to that particular Ashes, were left with the choice to stump up the funds for a Sky subscription or subject themselves to highlights on Channel 5 (in amongst all the cops you could possibly find on camera and nightmare neighbours scattered across the country).
Fast forward 16 years and the exciting news that Channel 4 are reportedly on the verge of securing the rights to broadcast the upcoming England-India test series, nostalgia was instantly invoked.
Would my passion for the game be what it is if not for Channel 4’s coverage?
Channel 4’s coverage provided a mash up of Mark Nicholas, Richie Benaud, Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5, Snickometer, Simon Hughes and occasional interruptions due to horse racing updates and somehow this amalgamated into a cherished and revered memory.
This was all down to the tone and language that was set and adhered to across the test matches.
Cricket fans are an odd bunch, but being able to effectively explain the game to novice viewers whilst layering in coverage that would appeal to the more ardent of fans over an eight hour daily broadcast is a steep task that Channel 4’s coverage excelled at in the early 2000’s.
Whilst Sky’s incredibly strong commentary team (David Lloyd, Michael Holding and Nasser Hussain in particular) build a picture of a day’s play that is insightful, the exclusivity of Sky’s broadcasts means first-time viewers would feel alienated in a way that cricket is very often accused of being.
For cricket to hit the heights of ’05, where Ashes fever had swept over the summer skies, the game must be accessible.
Naturally, test cricket’s place in the sporting landscape has shifted in the 16 years between terrestrial broadcasts.
In that time, T20 cricket has blossomed into a marketable organism that is even attracting sponsors from the world of crisps. Whilst Sir Alaistar Cook’s test feats may mean so much more than any ODI run-chase ever will to me, there is now more money dedicated to show the limited overs format of the game.
Many of the fans that may attend a T20 Blast game at Lord’s or Old Trafford are now primed to be groomed into realising that the red ball cricket is the most compelling form of the game.
Channel 4 now has the opportunity in this series, with play due to begin at 4am for three of the four test matches, to tap into the vast numbers of England and Indian fans of the game who will be stuck inside their houses.
How much of the flamboyance from ’05 can we expect from Channel 4 this time around?
Well there will be no Mark Nicholas, who is already signed up with TalkSport for the series, with Rishi Persad is the man rumoured to step his shoes. Channel 4 would also do well to build on the wave of inclusivity that is sweeping through mainstream sports broadcasting.
Any of the excellent Alison Mitchell, Isa Guha and Ebony Rainford-Brent would be a step in the right direction and build on the welcoming, friendly tone that must lay the foundation for the broadcast.
The real box office viewing will be what concoctions producers see fitting for the lunch interval. There are potentially 20 lunch breaks for them to fill and a full Tet Offensive of masterclasses and explanations which would then be available to view on YouTube and All4 would really take their coverage to the next level.
We will sit and watch and learn and be entertained in the way the Flintoff’s and Vaughan’s dazzled us all those years ago and the prospect of all this playing out on terrestrial TV makes me feel warm inside.
So crank up the Mambo No. 5 and bring on the new heroes; Root, Kohli, Ashwin, Stokes, Pant and Buttler will deliver fireworks on the pitch to wake the nation up from an early morning daze and showcase the game to a new generation of fans.
No interruptions from the 10.30 at Kempton…