In a moment of pure, unadulterated rebellion against our traditional and long-standing athletic values of bottling it when it matters, an English national team, via the narrowest of narrow margins, managed to win a major sporting title in the form of the Cricket World Cup. A true spectacle, the final against New Zealand captured the nation’s imagination, but was England’s spectacular campaign enough to turnaround what has been a worrying slide for domestic grass roots cricket over the last few years?
Cricket, in recent memory, has been dying a notable death in its nation of origin, with reports of numbers of registered cricketers in England dropping from 428,000 to 278,000 between 2008 and 2016. Indeed, the game hardly finds itself high up on the school sporting curriculum, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), via its own research, found that only 1 in 20 British children considered cricket as one of their top two favourite sports.
Thus, it’s all been sounding quite ominous for the sport of late — until now, that is. The World Cup, both hosted and won by England, has offered the sport a new lease of life domestically, with the ECB hopeful of inspiring a new generation of both players and fans off the back of the tournament.
The question is, will our World Cup success truly make a difference going forward?
A final for the ages, invoking memories of 2005
For all of the ECB’s hopes and dreams heading into the tournament, there was no way they could have anticipated how dramatic a spectacle the World Cup final would turn out to be.
England, seemingly in control with 10 overs to go, faltered in their run chase to the point where a win was virtually out of reach with two overs remaining. Enter the heroics of Ben Stokes, coupled with some mishaps in the field and an incredible piece of luck during a run out attempt, and England found themselves in a ‘super over’ to decide the World Cup winner.
What on earth was a ‘super over’? The fact that the majority of people watching had to quickly Google or WhatsApp their friends to ask that question showed the true reach of this historic game. The tournament had managed to engage with a far greater audience than just hardcore cricket fans, and the dramatic nature of the match itself meant that even the most casual of viewers had their head in their hands.
Because England made the final, Sky agreed to televise the match on Channel 4, meaning the game returned to terrestrial television for the first time since the famous Ashes series of 2005 — incidentally the last time that cricket truly captured the nation’s sporting passion. The fact that England came through as winners within a hair’s breadth helped considerably, but the sport’s return to non-satellite television had already worked wonders.
Viewing figures peaked at 8.3 million, nearly five times the amount recorded watching England beat India on Sky Sports only two weeks prior. These kinds of figures, coupled with what will go down as one of, if not the, greatest one-day games of all time, have offered the ECB an incredible platform to build upon with a re-engaged audience.
A tournament for all
Before the utter madness of the final, the tournament itself could already be considered a success.
England’s rough and tumble journey through the tournament created a useful storyline for the media, while many matches were played in front of passionate, cosmopolitan crowds — with games involving India and Pakistan in particular attracting a strong fanbase from Britain’s Indian/Pakistani demographic. Indeed, the whole competition was generally played in great spirits with plenty of memorable moments.
The truly international appeal of the World Cup was a victory for all, regardless of allegiance and ethnicity. Such universal success holds huge promise for the ECB, whose priority now is to retain this widespread interest and bring in a new generation of grassroots players from all communities. Meanwhile, cricket clubs and popular specialist retailers like Talent Cricket will hope to reap the rewards of increased interest as well.
The next steps
It is, of course, extremely early days for the process of rebuilding the sport’s profile. However, the ECB are keen to build on the momentum created by the success of the World Cup.
Across the next five years, the ECB has pledged a £770 million investment into all aspects of the sport, from furthering interest in the elite game to improving accessibility and diversity at ground level. The intention is to double participation in primary schools and transform women’s and girls’ cricket, while also tapping into a potentially lucrative South Asian fan market.
It’s far too soon to suggest whether England’s World Cup win will go on to truly rejuvenate the domestic game — what we do know is that the powers that be have already begun efforts to make sure it does. What is certain, is that they couldn’t have been given a better springboard to do it from.