The BBC broadcast the second England vs Pakistan T20 Match in this summer’s series, marking the first time since 1999 that live cricket has been shown by the BBC and a possible step forward to the growth of the sport.
Cricket was a notable casualty when Sky began buying up the rights to a wide variety of sports and putting them behind a paywall, making them only accessible to fans willing to pay the monthly subscription.
The last time cricket was shown live on free-to-air was the 2005 Ashes series, claimed by some to be the ‘greatest series ever played’ and was responsible for a notable uptake in the sport across the country. Since being behind lockdown, the sport has instead faced atrophy.
Cricket was a notable casualty when Sky began buying up the rights to a wide variety of sports and putting them behind a paywall
Coverage of cricket has not been entirely blocked for those unwilling to dip into their pockets, but has been limited to short highlights posted online days after a match or on the radio through the venerable Test Match Special (TMS), but again has struggled to encourage newcomers to the sport.
The return to the BBC follows a possible ‘renaissance’ of free to air cricket, with both daily hour long highlights of the Test matches being shown and two T20 matches shown live from start to finish. The decision to acquire the rights to the matches follows from last year’s World Cup final, which England won, being shown for free on Channel 4 following a deal with Sky.
The initial results are promising for both the BBC and cricket fans, there were over 2.7 million viewers for Pakistan vs England, the first of the T20 matches to be shown, demonstrating the existence of a viewer base for further matches.
At times years of radio commentary got the better of the commentators who forgot that viewers now have the gift of vision
While this doesn’t compare to the 8.2 million that watched this year’s FA cup final nor the 11.6 million that watched England vs Wales in the 6 nations, it does shape up positively to the 5 million that watched the 2019 Cricket World Cup final on Channel 4. The matches shown by the BBC are the second games of bilateral series that do not contribute to a grand international tournament, so a lower turnout is expected.
The coverage itself was the professional and sleek standard expected by any BBC sport coverage, with entertaining commentary hosted by Isa Guha and including all the TMS regulars as well as current England Test Bowler Jimmy Anderson. Though at times years of radio commentary got the better of the commentators who forgot that viewers now have the gift of vision.
There were certainly outside factors that aided the coverage, most notably the rain holding off long enough for the match to be played to its completion. The match itself was also thrilling, with England pulling off a high scoring run chase to beat Pakistan.
Free coverage of matches is a proven tool to get new people into the sport, especially young people
More free-to-air cricket coverage outside of this summer’s matches is not a done deal. The new Director General for the BBC has expressed a wish for there to be more cricket on the BBC, but a lack of funds would mean the BBC will have to argue that their coverage can reach more fans rather than give more money to the ECB.
Any cricket fan that has an interest in the longevity and popularity of the sport will want to see a continuation of the BBC’s new emphasis on live cricket. Free coverage of matches is a proven tool to get new people into the sport, especially young people.