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August 16, 2005
The chief executive of the England & Wales Cricket Board, David Collier, has called upon Britain's terrestrial broadcasters to "review their position" and ensure that international cricket is available to as wide an audience as possible. His comments come in the aftermath of one of the most uplifting fortnights in English cricket history, as 7.7 million people - 42 percent of the audience share - tuned into Monday evening's thrilling denouement to the third Test at Old Trafford.
The current feelgood factor is not set to last, alas, because as of next year, the rights to domestic internationals will have been snapped up by Sky TV in a £220 million deal. Channel Five will be broadcasting peaktime highlights from 7.15 to 8pm, but as the last two matches have demonstrated, there is nothing quite like the uncertainty of a tight finish to a Test match.
"Cricket certainly has captured the imagination, the viewing figures are enormous and we hope that everyone will be bidding as we come up to the next broadcast deal," Collier told Sporting Life. "A number of terrestrial broadcasters have already stated that they didn't bid for these rights and clearly with what's happened this summer, I'm sure everyone will be bidding because cricket has captured the imagination of the general public."
"It's up to us to manage to persuade all the terrestrial broadcasters to bid," Collier added. "The BBC has been very open and honest in saying it didn't bid for any live cricket so we hope that position will be reviewed. I'm certain by the time cricket comes around next time all the terrestrial broadcasters will be bidding for cricket and that is certainly what we want, we want the majority of people to see cricket."
Sky's current deal expires in 2009, which coincidentally happens to be the next time that Australia come to England, and that has prompted calls from a senior TV executive to reconsider Ashes cricket as one of the nation's so-called "crown jewels" - a list that includes Wimbledon, the FA Cup final and the Grand National - that have to be broadcast on terrestrial TV.
"Tests have been relegated from the top league of so-called listed events," David Liddiment, the former director of ITV, told London's Evening Standard. "In common with many fans, I hope that when the rights come round again, the BBC can swallow its pride, dig deep into its relatively capricious pockets and restore Britain's second national sport to its rightful place on the air: free and available to all."
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