Editorial: ECB must maintain summer Ashes fever

Pictures splashed on front and back pages, pubs brimming with fans glued to Channel 4's coverage, white flannel shirts outselling the football tops in Asda stores by three-to-one - it's just not cricket as we know it. This summer's Ashes series is the sporting PR triumph of the year, attracting interest from all walks of life in a manner unwitnessed for years.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. A nailbiting contest against the 'old enemy' represents the sport's zenith. Wind back to the fever surrounding the Rugby World Cup triumph 21 months ago or tennis's years of Henmania.

Neither sport is yet to prove that it is significantly broadening its public appeal to boost participation and trigger longer-term success stories.

To its credit, the England & Wales Cricket Board - whose reputation took a hit when it failed to boycott last year's controversial tour of Zimbabwe - is getting its house in order to strengthen the grass-roots.

As we report this week (p10), the ECB is ramping up its lobbying of government to boost funding of the sport under 'Chance to Shine', a ten-year campaign to get one third of state schools playing cricket regularly. Although all but one of England's test line-up attended state schools, they developed their talent at local clubs.

But ten years is a long time. In the meantime, the ECB has sold blanket live rights for England tests to BSkyB in a £220m, four-year deal. So many schoolkids won't be able to watch the games. If they can't see it, they're less likely to play it. However, the ECB gets 80 per cent of its revenues from TV rights - purportedly ploughed back into the grass-roots, so accepting the satellite broadcaster's runaway top bid is understandable.

The ECB has set a conservative target for three top cricketers to be recognisable by ten per cent of the population. With the prospect of no terrestrial live coverage, the ECB needs to work with players' agents in a concerted PR effort to build the game's big stars into genuine heroes for young cricketers. That will provide the momentum to ensure this summer's fever lives on.

Danny Rogers is away.

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