Cricket: Blake's heaven: new look, new audience

Andrew Longmore hears the marketing man of cricket stress the need for change

The most significant document to emerge from the offices of the England Cricket Board last week had nothing to do with the teams to be dispatched, like missionaries, to all parts of the globe this winter nor with the latest proposals for revitalising the County Championship. The de-listing of Test cricket: the case for change landed on the desk of Chris Smith on Wednesday morning. On its powers of persuasion depends the future of cricket.

Acceptance of the argument for de-listing by the Heritage Secretary would free the English game to negotiate a realistic rate for its television rights; rejection could cost the ECB pounds 40m, enough to hobble Lord MacLaurin's Raising the Standard report due for consideration by the recreational and first-class forums at Lord's tomorrow.

To put it in the more formal words of the de-listing document: "If the game is not able to achieve the market rate for its events, the future development of English cricket will be placed in serious doubt." The language of the scaremonger for sure? "No, that's exactly what we mean," says Terry Blake, marketing director of the ECB. "Football has changed its whole image with the help of Government, Sky and the terrestrial channels. The game has a good balance of television coverage and is now well funded. Cricket needs to do the same or we will fall way behind."

If MacLaurin, the chairman of the ECB, calls the tune to the counties, Blake has to pay the piper. The competitive edge of English cricket cannot be sharpened without considerable investment in schools, clubs and the newly influential county boards. Deprived, it seems from the musings of the Government, of the chance to benefit from a National Academy of Excellence, cricket has to make its own way. But until home Test cricket is removed from the arbitrary list of events (the Derby, the Cup final, the Grand National and the Wimbledon finals, for example) designated by the Government for terrestrial broadcast, Blake argues, the game's lifeblood will be subject to an unjust tourniquet.

"We're not saying we want to take Test cricket off the BBC, we might not even take the highest bid, but we need the highest bid to ensure others pay the true market rate," he explains. Sky did not bid for the exclusive rights to home Tests in the last deal, but their competitive presence ensured a three-fold increase in the rate, to pounds 58m over four years. The provisions of the 1996 Act, pushed through by Lord Howell to some Government embarrassment, stopped sub- scription channels from bidding for exclusive rights to listed events, reviving the old BBC monopoly for the new deal, which would begin in 1999.

The ECB believes the Lord's Test should still be listed, with the other Tests subject to open competition. As signatories to the voluntary code of practice, which ensures highlights of big events are shown on terrestrial channels anyway, the most popular part of the package would be preserved - and, probably, at a more sociable hour of night. An acceptable compromise between free market, social provision and sponsors might include three Tests on BBC, three on Sky with nightly highlights available on either channel.

"How can you equate 180 hours of Test cricket with 10 minutes of the Grand National, three minutes of the Derby or 90 minutes of the Cup final?" Blake asks. Particularly when the BBC has a habit of disappearing to Royal Ascot or the Centre Court at vital moments.

Purists are suspicious of Blake's cricketing vision. Multi-vision screens, sightscreens as electronic hoardings, outfields emblazoned with sponsors' logos, you name it, Blake has put a price tag on it. The increase in one- day cricket, a widely condemned feature of the original MacLaurin report, was duly attributed to his commercial hand. (Ditto the idea of a one-day knockout Super Cup for the top eight teams in the county championship, one of the revised options submitted last week.) After eight years at the Board, Blake has heard it all before. Purists v Marketeers. At the age of 43, he straddles old and new; as a long-standing member of Hemingford Hermits CC, he knows full well which parts of the game's heritage are priceless.

"I want cricket to survive and it will because of its tradition and history," he says. "But don't tell me cricket's soul was not alive and well on the streets of Calcutta when India won the World Cup in 1983." Or Colombo in 1996 or, if his dream comes true, London two years hence. "Cricket is at its purest over five days, but for eight-, nine-, ten-year-olds there is an obvious attraction in having an instant result, and I don't think we should deny them that. We have to give counties the chance to draw bigger crowds and, by having regular one-day fixtures, to get people into a rhythm of watching it as football does by guaranteeing at least one home game every fortnight. I can be accused of overegging it, but it's not just about money, it's about attracting new audiences. Why should it be a question of either five-day or one-day cricket? We should be able to do both."

Lord MacLaurin favours promotion and relegation in the Championship and might just pull it off; Blake, you feel, would fancy a more explosive climax - play-offs or a Super Cup, served up before the armchair where the power sits. But, whatever the fate of the MacLaurin report tomorrow, the real battle is still to come and it is one neither Blake nor cricket can afford to lose.

election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'