Opinion: Short-term greed does cricket a disservice

Any sport that knocks Premiership football off the back pages, and even makes it on to the front, should be celebrating its success, and English cricket is doing just that this week - no matter what the outcome at the Oval.

The nation's summer game has a long record of poor PR, however, and the decision of the England and Wales Cricket Board to sell exclusive broadcasting rights to BSkyB is just the the latest example.

Just as it develops a team of world beaters, and having previously persuaded the Government that test cricket is among the 'crown jewels' of sport, the ECB allows the sport to come off terrestrial TV, inevitably losing much of the vital oxygen of publicity.

This is unfortunate because after the ECB's last PR disaster - the debacle over whether to play in Zimbabwe during the World Cup - it invited some hacks over to South Africa, including myself.

We were wined and dined, taken on safari and, most importantly, listened to. Every single journalist on this trip advised the ECB not to sell to Sky, because test cricket had the potential to have the same protected status as the FA Cup and football World Cup. The ECB assured us that the only reason it was dealing with Sky was so it could push up the bids from Channel 4 and the BBC. We didn't believe it - and we were right.

The 'blazers' have now taken Murdoch's money and justifiably been savaged by the media, although not by The Sun, of course.

I should point out that I'm not anti-Sky per se. I believe it has done a brilliant job with Premiership football but at least the FA has had the sense to divide the rights and keep some games on the BBC, which gives them far bigger audiences than on Sky.

Ironically the MCC, which no longer runs the game in England, has a much better PR record. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a member myself.

What sporting arena in the country has better facilities for the journalists than Lord's? And it was the MCC committee that kept holding ballots until women were finally allowed to join. It knew just how damaging the row was to cricket, even if some of the members didn't.

But the fact is that all this should not be left to the blazers. The Government should step in and insist that our national summer game can be seen by all of us. The problem is very few of New Labour actually like cricket. Though maybe now Scotland has qualified for the cricket World Cup, Gordon Brown will finally take an interest.

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