Doesn't hurt us: Why losing to Australia won't torture England

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  • Joe Root
    Joe Root
    English cricketer (born 1990)
Seen here, England's players look on in despair after a third straight defeat in the 2021/22 Ashes series.
England's players will be desperate to leave Australia with something after three consecutive defeats in the Ashes series. Pic: AAP

A former England cricketer had been in Australia for work a few summers back when it struck him; Every pub and home he visited had the cricket on. 

Driving past parks or spending a day at the beach, he noticed families and mates playing scratch matches using bins or boogie boards for stumps.    

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People he spoke to knew what stage a Test match was at and would often manoeuvre work or social commitments around the day's play.

Or if they had to go somewhere, the car radio would be set to a station broadcasting the game.

"It's not like this back home," the ex-player said, "most people would be flat out knowing a game's on."

If you think Australia's demolition of England in this Ashes series has fans in the streets of Manchester burning effigies of Joe Root or marching on Lord's demanding Chris Silverwood's head, think again.

They've got better things to do.

England's love for Test cricket has been slowly eroding for decades, save for the occasional emotion-charged victory over the Aussies at home.   

Test Cricket has not been on free-to-air TV in England since 2005.

If you're under the age of about 20, there's every chance you have not seen a red-ball game on the box unless your parents were willing to line Murdoch's pockets to have a Sky satellite dish plonked on the roof or stream BT Sport (currently charging around $A50 a month to watch the Ashes).

And if you subscribe to the 'you need to see it to be it' theory, what chance those kids pestering their oldies into letting them take up the game or at least go to one?

Former County cricketer turned TV analyst Simon Hughes worked on the last station to broadcast cricket free-to-air (or terrestrial TV as it's called in the UK) – Channel 4 – and wrote about the impact it had on those who watched England's epic 2005 Ashes victory.     

"Cricket had captured the imagination of the nation. The papers were asking ‘Is cricket the new football?" he said. 

"Kids returned to playing cricket rather than frisbee in the park. During the final Test at The Oval, it was reported that eight out of 10 city trading screens were tuned to the cricket. 

Pictured here, England's 2005 Ashes victory parade through the streets of London.
England's epic 2005 Ashes triumph captured the hearts and minds of a nation. Pic: Getty

"And then at 8.47pm on September 12 2005, after the last highlights link had been recorded and the edit had been completed and the final credits inserted, someone pulled a plug in the Channel 4 VT truck and all the monitors went dark and live cricket went off terrestrial TV, leaving all of us, and more importantly the game, suddenly scrabbling for visibility.

"I still meet many people – usually in their late 20s or early 30s – who say they got into cricket in those Channel 4 years."

Football dominates sporting landscape in England

Englishman Charlie Cook is in sports media and has his finger very much on the pulse.

The 34-year-old lived in Australia for seven years and knows the hold cricket has on the country.

It is a far different situation in England, where all the talk is about the Premier League title race, the January transfer window and whether Arsenal deserved a penalty against Manchester City at the weekend.

Cricket isn't the hot topic of conversation, and not just because the Poms are copping a hiding in a non-friendly time zone.

The care factor is just not there like it used to be.       

"England's got nothing like Australia's cricket overage, which has no real competition over summer," Cook told Yahoo Sport Australia.

"Over here we have Christmas football which is the most intense calendar of the season. 

"My sports WhatsApp chats are basically 90% football and the occasional bit of 'Joe Root's a sh*t captain', among those having watched none of the matches and maybe caught the wickets on Twitter.

"It certainly doesn’t cut as deep as it does in Australia.

"Having Test cricket back on free-to-air would certainly help increase interest levels, but it would take time."

Ashes Tests – home and away – are on free-to-air TV under Australia's anti-siphoning laws, as are all of Australia's home Test series.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) took the pay-TV cash back in 2005, securing a sound financial base but alienating millions of fans in the process. 

The game is now paying a heavy price.  

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