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England Tests will never return to free-to-air TV, claims ECB chairman Colin Graves

Colin Graves' tenure as ECB chairman will come to an end in November 2020 Getty Images

ECB chairman Colin Graves has predicted that Test matches played in England will never return to free-to-air (FTA) television, claiming that broadcasters have to put up with "astronomical" costs to show a five-day game.

In an interview with the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, Graves warned that the next government should not interfere with how cricket sells its broadcasting rights, and suggested that the offering of short-form cricket on FTA TV next year was sufficient. The BBC are set to show ten games from the men's Hundred, up to eight games from the women's Hundred, two men's T20Is and one women's T20I live next summer.

ALSO READ: MPs implore ECB to return live Test cricket to free-to-air TV

"One of the first things I said as chairman was we want cricket back on terrestrial television," Graves said.

"We have done it but Test cricket on terrestrial television is a totally different ball game. If you talk to broadcasters, none of them want it. It does not fit into their schedules.

"Can I ever see Test cricket being on free-to-air? No. I can't see how they fit it in. The cost to do a Test match is astronomical from a broadcasting point of view. For a five-day Test you are talking production cost of a million quid so there is not going to be a queue even if they push it that way."

The last Test shown live on FTA TV in the UK was the fifth Ashes Test in 2005, and the ECB came under pressure from a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee in October for their decision to sell exclusive rights to Sky Sports.

Ian Lucas, the Labour MP for Wrexham, grilled senior ECB figures including Graves and chief executive Tom Harrison at an oral evidence session for the committee, and said he would "love to see at least one Test - the Lord's Test, for example - on FTA TV". The Labour Party's manifesto for next week's general election includes a pledge to add the Cricket World Cup to the list of 'crown jewel' sporting events that are broadcast on FTV TV, but does not mention Test cricket.

"If any government starts pushing free-to-air and says it has got to happen, they are going to take a chunk of money out of English cricket," Graves warned.

"That is not just professional cricket. It will take a chunk of money out of recreational cricket, women's cricket, schools, the whole shooting match. So we have to be very, very careful when we talk to governments and make sure they are aware of the situations they might want to get into."

Graves' five-year term as ECB chairman ends in November 2020. His replacement will be the first to be paid a salary, and the search for his successor is underway.