ECB out to 'own the summer'
The ECB has unveiled a raft of measures it hopes will capitalise on a golden summer in which England hosts both the Champions Trophy and an Ashes series and inspire more people than ever before to play and watch the game.
They are also mindful that, for once, there are relatively few high-profile rival sporting events - such as the Olympics or a major international football tournament. As Steve Elworthy, managing director of global events and marketing, put it, "We want cricket to own this summer."
Ashes tickets are selling as well as anticipated - 95% of tickets have sold for the first four days of all Ashes Tests, with some grounds having sold out of fifth-day tickets - though the Leeds Test against New Zealand was described as "needing some support." The Champions Trophy is also meeting expectations, with anticipation at Edgbaston and The Oval particularly high.
The initiative will include free tickets for -16s at 40 Yorkshire Bank 40 matches in August (a maximum of four U-16s will be permitted per paying adult) and free on-line highlights of every YB40, County Championship and home international match. The ECB are also investigating the possibility of live-streaming the women's Ashes Test.
To encourage more people to play the game, the ECB will launch 'The Ashes School Challenge', a scheme which will offer free teaching and learning resources to primary schools using cricket to educate nine to 11-year-olds in the Key Stage 2 curriculum across all subjects. The ECB is also hoping to expand the 'Last Man Stands' format - an eight-a-side format lasting two-hours per game - which is designed to appeal to 'lapsed' cricketers who may not have the time or fitness to continue to play club cricket.
As for the thorny topic of the absence of international games on free-to-view television, the ECB will offer cricket clubs around the country incentives to allow members and non-members the opportunity to watch games for free. Competitions will offer chances to watch the Ashes in Australia and for a team to play at an international venue.
While the overall financial value of an Ashes series is now worth far less than a series against India - the value of overseas broadcast rights means the India series is estimated as at least 30% more lucrative - the power of the Ashes brand in England and Wales remains vast and the ECB hope that can utilise the profile of it to create a legacy to see the game through less obviously commercial seasons.
While the next three years offer a raft of high-profile Test series (Australia are the principle tourists in 2013 and 2015, with India playing a five-Test series in 2014), there is some concern about the commercial value a few of the years immediately following that. Tickets for series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the tourists in 2016, have not always sold well.
"Not every summer can be iconic," Gordon Hollins, Managing Director of Professional Cricket at the ECB said. "But three years is a long time and we hope the plans we put in place now will help us if there are tougher years ahead."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo