I don’t like cricket, I love it (when it’s free)
Since the infamous 2005 Ashes series, cricket has been locked away from public consumption, unless you could afford the luxury of a Sky Sports package.
Channel 4’s deal to share coverage with Sky aimed to bring the sport to the masses and boost access to the game was a welcome move. And it worked, too. More than 8 million of us tuned in to watch the most dramatic match in 14 years. Perhaps there were others in that time, but I missed them because I don’t have a Sky Sports subscription.
Since England’s triumphant win, the media has been applauding the team for showing that cricket isn’t boring, and that the sport is accessible to all. The efforts of England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have helped attract a more diverse audience. Four million people from 157 countries applied for tickets, 150,000 tickets were sold to girls and women, and 320,000 to fans from South Asian communities. This is the result of what our English team looks like today, with much credit due to what these organisations have been doing behind the scenes. It’s evident that making sport inclusive means tackling inequality internally first.
Making diversity mainstream
Bringing cricket to a much larger audience on Channel 4 helped boost viewership, but it isn’t the only reason we’ve seen more diversity on our screens. It’s not just about what you see on the outside, but what is going on inside. Just looking out onto the pitch at the England squad showed us what it truly means to be English. From Bradford to Barbados, Dublin to Durban, it’s a team that people can get behind because they can see themselves - they can see their own communities represented.
The heritage of the team reminds us of the ‘cricket test’ coined by MP Norman Tebbit in the 90s. He believed that South Asian and Caribbean immigrants (and their children) could not be British if they didn’t support England in Cricket matches. And guess what? It’s these very ‘unloyal’ children that have helped bring the England team to victory. In fact, many viewers that were cheering on Pakistan and India swapped their jerseys to the England kit. And surely that’s what being English means today: we’re an amazing mix and celebration of identities.
People were quick to remind him that we do need Europe to win. Without Europe, and the diversity it brings, our captain, who led us to victory, would not be part of the England squad.
Uniting a divided nation
While we might be a very different and more forward-thinking country than we were in the 90s - Brexit still happened. However, the World Cup this year showed us that sport can help bring our communities back together again. Eoin Morgan’s post-match interview praised the diversity of the team and demonstrated exactly what an inclusive culture can create: success. As Moeen Ali writes, “It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you believe in, if you can come together with a common purpose – in our case winning the World Cup – and you show courage, unity and respect (our team mantra) you can achieve anything.”
Every single player belongs in the England team, despite where they may have been born or the religion they follow. It’s this diversity that makes England truly great. And clearly helps us win trophies!
Breaking the boundary
This is a pivotal moment for English cricket. It has shown us the power of diversity to bring a sport home. This epic final will have inspired children, from all backgrounds, to take up the sport and be the next Eoin Morgan, Adil Rashid or Jofra Archer. Keeping up this momentum will be important in the next few months. Initiatives and campaigns, such as the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan, which we are supporting in our work at The Unmistakables, will drive up recruitment levels in communities that may have never considered the sport before.
It’s these programmes, behind the scenes, that help the teams we see on the pitch reflect the society we live in today. Long live the diversity and inclusivity of English cricket.