"When we do Big Fat Cricket Quiz of the Year then I think I'll be getting some points." - Jack Whitehall

"And you'll be the only f****r here..." - Jonathan Ross

The Big Fat Anniversary Quiz, Channel 4, January 2, 2015


Cricket's image in England is not cool. Not because of what it is, but because of what people think it is.

Cricket in England is thought to be about slow summer afternoons, cable-knit sweaters and old people; about rural villages and afternoon tea. About good sportsmanship and squashed sandwiches; sweaty jockstraps and defensive play.

If that seems superficial it is because it is. Cricket in England has an image problem. And image matters. Image really, really matters.


In 2002 the ECB conducted the biggest piece of consumer research the game had ever seen. The research was targeted at demographics of the population they felt were underrepresented at domestic cricket. The survey found that people saw cricket as "inaccessible".

One year later the T20 format was born.

The creation of T20 in 2003 not only gave birth to a great new format of cricket but it gave, and is still giving the sport, an opportunity to change.

T20 was a format created by the demands of the people. It is this foundation that gives administrators the opportunity to be shameless. The opportunity to detach cricket from its restrictive connotations. To rebrand it. To redesign it. To overhaul it.

Free from the gilded cage of tradition and unshackled from the weight of history and time, T20 is the format where administrators can unashamedly reach out to new demographics and new markets, modernising and Americanising cricket's image in line with the inclinations of changing popular culture.

Not to do so is a betrayal of my generation.


In 2012 the ECB conducted another piece of consumer research, this one even larger than the last. The survey asked technical questions about the structure of the domestic schedule, how the T20 competition should be formatted and how it could be improved.

The survey was targeted at existing cricket fans.

T20 was created to try and bring new fans to the sport, but ten years after its creation the ECB appeared to have given up trying.


The T20 format in England has broken down cricket's sporting inaccessibilities: its length, its pace, its timing; and this has expanded cricket's audience. But its popular image has remained relatively unchanged. Sure, there's music, mascots, cheerleaders and cheap entertainment, and yeah it's fun, but it's a bit of a joke; it's not really cool. Cricket's image remains its biggest obstacle to growth.

While the ECB's efforts to preserve the history, tradition and some would say integrity of English cricket are commendable, the time for romanticism is gone.

An aggressive marketing strategy and restructure prior to the 2014 T20 season drew little response and the declining participation numbers in amateur cricket that were revealed at the end of the year suggested a mainstream sport in decline.

The ECB are right; there are people "outside cricket" - a lot of them, and 2014 was a year in which that number grew.


Fundamental to cricket's image problem in the UK is counties. There are negative undercurrents attached to the ideals of county cricket teams.

Counties are rural, antiquated and unfashionable. This is the age of the metropolis, the age of the city. People don't associate themselves with the county they live in. They associate themselves with their urban-centres; cities and towns. It is predicted that by 2020 more than 90% of the UK population will live in a city.

Cricket in England is not traditionally working-class or city-based, and football dominates the sporting calendar. But there is a gap in the market for an urban summer sport and T20, distinct and detached from the existing image of cricket, can fill it.

Many unofficial inner-city leagues have existed for years, invisible to the ECB until recently. There are huge Asian communities in many English cities. Larger cage-cricket and street-style-cricket initiatives could and should be pursued by the ECB. Vast swathes of English cities remain untapped markets for domestic cricket.

Superficially disassociating T20 from counties to cities risks the allegiance of existing fans but it could also open up cricket to otherwise uncharted demographics disenfranchised by an out of date county model.

But really, it's not even about cutting teams. It's about dividing them up. A televised first division with, say nine city-based teams, and a non-televised second division with another nine city and town based teams, would preserve the existing eighteen, and even allow for expansion to town-based teams in third and fourth divisions.

But having fewer teams per league would allow every match in the top division - an English Premier League - to be televised, helping to establish recognisable teams with identities synonymous with their colours, nicknames, certain players and home grounds.

Eighteen teams in one competition is too many for casual fans to keep track of. Latent attraction through ease of access and understanding will be bolstered by contraction.


The TV coverage itself is also a problem.

Pre-existing cricket fans often don't like the commentary on the IPL or the BBL; it's too light-hearted, there's too much banter and not enough bat and ball. But new cricket fans often do. It's fun, jokey and enjoyable. Sky's coverage is, to the existing cricket fan, superb. It's sensible, analytical and intelligent. But that's not what new fans are looking for.

A new cricket fan doesn't really know or care if the match he or she just watched isn't the greatest ever but it's nice to be told it is, even if two days later they're told it again.

Cricket is a complicated sport. Dumbing it down is not dumb. In fact, it's obvious marketing.


For the 2014 season an ECB promotional video for the NatWest T20 Blast showed a cricket ball attached to the steel frame of a helium balloon slowly rising into the air. Computerised radio crackling noises punctuated the sound of the wind as a shaky camera showed the ball ascend from Edgbaston up through the clouds 30 kilometres into the sky, a height classified as the edge of space.

The video was 90 seconds long and ended with the screen reading: NatWest T20 Blast. Coming To Earth May 16 2014.

More than a decade since its introduction T20 cricket in England still looks like the cricket people know. And cricket in the UK has an image problem.

Moments later when filming had stopped atmospheric pressure caused the balloon to pop. The ball was eventually retrieved from a field near Newbury.

Another ECB promo in 2014 saw some players using cricket equipment as instruments. It was branded as the Sound of Summer. James Taylor played the violin with a stump and a cricket bat. Presumably it was a requiem for advertising.


England's tournament doesn't even have its own domain-name website. The official site is hidden behind ecb.co.uk and a hyphen. It's as if they don't want people to find it.


Domestic T20 cricket in Australia is sponsored by KFC; domestic T20 cricket in India is sponsored by Pepsi; domestic T20 cricket in England has been sponsored by an insurance company and a bank. People don't like banks.


"To reach kids we need cricket that doesn't look like the cricket they know." - Mike McKenna, Cricket Australia Big Bash League Project Owner, 2011

More than a decade since its introduction T20 cricket in England still looks like the cricket people know. And cricket in the UK has an image problem.

With one board and 18 independent counties, past attempts at cosmetic overhauls have been disjointed, uncoordinated and incoherent. Desperately searching for their own solutions to cricket's image problem, the ECB and counties are doing more harm than good as they lurch from one solution to the next. There's no common goal and no shared vision.

The name of the competition keeps changing. The structure keeps changing. Teams change their kits, their names and their brands before dropping them all, reverting to the old ones before picking up new ones again. The marketing is awful, the commentary is dull, the website is hard to find and it's sponsored by a bank.

Changing the image of cricket in England successfully will require centralised decision-making and complete submission to the idea. T20 has given the ECB the opportunity to change cricket in England forever. So far they are yet to take it.

Freddie Wilde is a freelance T20 journalist. @fwildecricket