You may have noticed from this website’s Patreon ‘benefits’ that we’re not big on paywalls. We’re therefore very excited to see that John Spellar MP wants to change the law so that England’s home Test matches would become ‘protected’ sports events and consequently broadcast on free-to-air TV. It’s a shame the current government won’t allow that.
For all the good it’ll do (none), Spellar’s bill will be “considered” in March.
Speaking to the Press Association, he explained: “The big international games should be free-to-air, should be available for everyone, because we want those to encourage people, and particularly youngsters, to participate in sport, and also as part of national cohesion of supporting.”
Despite the clunky wording, those sentiments are very hard to disagree with. However, a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said there were no plans to change the current list of protected events. “We believe the current list strikes an appropriate balance, with protections in place for highlights of cricket Test Matches played in England…”
There you go, all you people who can’t afford a sports TV subscription. That’s that. You’re already catered for quite well enough. If you want to watch sport live, simply hold on until the FA Cup final or the Grand National.
Highlights are good, of course – thanks for the highlights – but they’re not actually what they purport to be. A highlights show isn’t the best of the day’s play, because the best and most vital aspect of sport is watching it unfold, not knowing which way the match is going to turn next.
Sure, you can bunker down and try and Likely Lads it – and good luck with that in this day and age – but that’s an artificial thing. When you’re watching the game play out that evening – or rather watching some of it play out – you can’t help but be aware that there’s an editorial layer between you and what happened. What are they choosing to show you here and what’s hidden?
Highlights aren’t even sport really; they’re entertainment. They’re a depiction of sporting events, shorn of the uncertainty and therefore also the drama. There’s much to enjoy, but you don’t get that holy-hell-are-you-watching-this quality that can make sport feel so immediate and vital.
An LBW that breaks a comfortable partnership is a 1.21 gigawatt bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky when you’re watching a match live, and every bit as electrifyng. Conversely, on the highlights, that same wicket won’t really feel like much at all, because wickets are, um, highlights, so you’re primed to think there’s always one on the way.
All these plot twists that move you – the sixes out of nowhere, the slowly unfurled partnership that almost imperceptibly tows the game in a barely believable new direction – these things cannot really be perceived within the confines of a 60-minute ‘best of’ show.
These are the things that make sport. These moments and our emotional reactions to them are what develop our infatuation with what is, after all, just a game. The mystery inherent in watching a live game unfold is such a fundamental aspect of following sport – but these days you have to pay for it.
Postscript – there are a lot more ways to follow Test cricket these days
We started this website in January 2006, which was pretty much exactly the moment when live Test cricket departed free-to-air TV. We have therefore written about this subject often – full articles, narky paragraphs, a sentence here, a jaded allusion there.
It’s certainly not unimportant. We still feel sufficiently strongly to have written about it again, but we’d also conceded that viewing habits – no, not viewing habits exactly – cricket-following habits have changed and continue to change.
The modern experience is not just about being on the receiving end of a TV broadcast. It’s shaped by online scorecards, radio, ball-by-ball reporting, highlights snippets and social media. This isn’t really a substitute for watching a match live, but it picks up a good deal of the slack and some people will combine several of those elements to create something that works better for them.
You can read more on this in our piece about the ‘Test cricket doesn’t fit into modern life’ fallacy, which asks whether Test cricket is dying because it’s unsuited to modern life, or whether it’s being allowed to die because it’s harder to monetise.