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'Sit down, kids. This is how we watched cricket back in my day'

It's 7am, and your telly has already been hijacked for the day. And no, you're not getting the remote control

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Mark Nicholas and Richie Benaud prepare to go on air for Channel 4 during the 1999 Lord's Test  •  Getty Images

Mark Nicholas and Richie Benaud prepare to go on air for Channel 4 during the 1999 Lord's Test  •  Getty Images

If you are old enough to plough your mind back through the mists of time - to the days before WiFi, before dial-up internet connections, before even satellite TV - then you'll just about be able to remember what it was like to have no say in what you were force-fed on the television.
You might remember how each of the UK's four TV channels (three or fewer if you're truly ancient) had its own distinctive, and distinctly dysfunctional, personality.
The BBCs were a pair of nerdy twins, all preachy and proper, hellbent on telling you everything they thought you ought to know, generally when you least wanted to hear it.
ITV was achingly nouveau, and considered vulgar by your parents, but it was secretly your favourite, mainly because it showed CHiPs and the A-Team on a Saturday night.
And as for Channel 4, we'll come to its original cricket-rights era in a moment but, from inception, it was a strange assemblage of... well, not sure what exactly. Endless episodes of Countdown and Brookside (the soap that not even your grandmother watched), as well as The Tube, a music show that was obviously way cooler than Top of the Pops, and considered off-limits for precisely that reason.
But the point is, that was your lot. Take it or leave it, and don't blink or you'll miss it. There was no streaming, no surfing, no pausing, certainly no second-screening. The TV listings ruled supreme.
There was, however, one option for binge-watching, and in a sign of the times for future generations, it's why so many middle-aged tragics will have fallen out of bed at 3.55am in the UK this morning, to relapse into a few bad old habits.
And, with apologies to C4's cruelly short preparation time, there will have been more than a little Pavlovian slavering when the old guard flicked on the telly to be greeted by the lo-fi witterings of two men in a dimly-lit broom cupboard (one of whom was making his first free-to-air appearance after 12,472 runs and 161 Tests behind a paywall).
For there is a tendency in English cricket circles to view the free-to-air era as some sort of long-forgotten land of milk and honey, when the sport was nurtured in the bosom of munificent Auntie Beeb and everybody in the land revelled in shared ownership of their national pastime.
The reality was somewhat different - certainly in the BBC days (wait for it, Channel 4, wait for it...) when the unsurpassed glory of Soul Limbo's theme music was frankly the high point of the coverage.
Yes, there was Richie Benaud, but let's face it, Test cricket on the BBC was grudgingly presented at best, by stuffed-shirts with opinions aplenty but barely an insight between them, and invariably weaved into the schedule with just the right lack of finesse to wind up absolutely everyone.
If the producers weren't missing Graham Gooch's 300th run against India to show the runners and riders at Ascot, they were cutting to the lunchtime news instead of concentrating on Richard Illingworth's wicket with his first ball in Tests. Or missing entire afternoon sessions to show some tedious no-hoper in the second round at Wimbledon.
And that's just the backwashed complaints - what about the countless thousands who never wanted to be bored witless by seven hours of cricket coverage in the first place? And yes, initially, I was among their number. My first true reaction to cricket was outrage that my lunchtime cartoons had been kiboshed by a cabal of tediously immobile morris dancers. And I guarantee you there are countless thousands still in bed this morning, whose first impressions have not budged an inch.
But, and I reiterate, the lack of free will was paramount. It's not for nothing that Stockholm Syndrome is a widely recognised psychological condition.
My personal journey into cricket was a case of boredom giving way to curiosity, and spellbound devotion thereafter. Would I have given the game a second thought if I'd been able to flick over to YouTube and stick on the Norris Nuts instead? Such are the reasons why the free-to-air debate in the digital age has been more nuanced than the relist-the-crown-jewels brigade would have you believe.
And yes, the debate is surely skewed by the era's glorious finale. It's only right and proper to acknowledge that, for six glorious years, right at the end of the terrestrial era, Channel 4 reshaped the game with the manner in which they documented English cricket's golden years.
They witnessed the blossoming of the first great England team of living memory - from rock-bottom humiliation in C4's maiden year of coverage, through to that summer of summers in 2005. And they did so with aplomb that advanced the sport's social reach to an extent unseen since Kerry Packer's revolution at World Series Cricket two decades earlier.
Their final day of coverage at The Oval turned into the most glorious leaving party the sport could ever have devised, as it was beamed up into the digital age on that bittersweet September afternoon, with a peak audience of 7.4 million aficionados, new and old, wondering if things could ever be the same again.
Sky Sports, so easily disparaged whenever there's a free-to-air fairytale to report, may have since perfected such concepts to transform the narrative once again. But no one can deny who the first movers were in this instance.
But the original Channel 4 era is also something of a red herring. Without putting too fine a point on it, they were obliged to make an effort because the world was already changing, and crucially, nor were they the BBC, the channel that still goes on by default whenever your average viewer is at a loose end.
Television's traditional captive audience had long since loosened its bonds. And yet, as C4 seem to have realised making this audacious bid, there's a potential twist to that narrative over the coming few weeks in India - because there's a very unconventional new captive audience waiting to be cultivated.
It'll still be a struggle to pick up the true floating voters in this multi-platform era. But the true glory of this return to terrestrial coverage may well come around now, at 7 o'clock in the morning on a daily basis, when the kids fall out of bed during a national lockdown, to find their telly has already been hijacked for the day, and no, sod off, you're not getting the remote control.
Sit down, watch, listen, learn. This is how life was, back in my day. And yes, Dom Sibley is thoroughly tedious, isn't he?
Indoctrinate the incarcerated! It's for the greater good.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket