What's the point of a cricket World Cup if nobody is watching?

When six-year-old Josh Crannis visited his friend last week, he was surprised by what he saw.
On TV was the Cricket World Cup, the first in this country for 20 years and a once-in-a-generation chance to enthuse a new audience. Yet he had no idea it was even taking place.
The reason was simple. Unlike his friend's parents, Josh's do not subscribe to Sky Sports, access to which effectively means membership of English cricket's inner circle. The anecdote should alarm everyone who loves the game.
Josh, it should be pointed out, is among them. He recently signed up to the ECB's successful All Stars Cricket scheme, which gives children aged between five and eight their first taste of the sport and he enjoys sessions in Swindon, his home town.
If cricket really is to remain England's summer game, he ought to be the low-hanging fruit.
'The World Cup has not been well publicised,' said his mum, Ceri. 'There's nothing at the club to say it is going on, or how to get tickets. I don't think he would recognise anyone in the England team.'
Josh's experience is at the emotional core of a debate that stirs passions and boils down to a simple equation — is it better to be financially secure but relatively obscure, or less solvent but widely available?
Nothing enrages Sky executives more than the thought that they are not getting the credit they deserve for bankrolling English cricket since they secured the rights to all home matches from 2006.
There is little doubt they have provided funding beyond anything the terrestrial broadcasters could dream of offering. Neither is the quality of the coverage in dispute.
Sky would never tell viewers they were 'switching to the horse racing' as the BBC did in 1990 with Graham Gooch on the verge of England's only Test triple-century in the last 54 years.
As for trying to find space in the terrestrial schedules for 48 World Cup matches in 46 days, forget it. Some go further and claim cricket in this country would now be dead without Sky's paywall. But that is unprovable and hysterical.
And while it's true there were no UK free-to-air bidders for live World Cup coverage, it is also true they wouldn't have been able to compete with Sky.
The debate was refuelled when it emerged that the women's World Cup football match on the BBC between England and Scotland on Sunday had drawn a peak audience of 6.1million, compared with 1.3m on Sky for the closing stages of England versus Pakistan at Trent Bridge.
Average figures for England's three World Cup cricket matches so far are closer to 550,000.
And the sense that this tournament is taking place at arm's length from the masses was compounded when Channel 4, who can run highlights three hours after Sky's live coverage ends, waited until 12.20am on Sunday to broadcast England versus Bangladesh.
A Channel 4 spokesman told Sportsmail
there are plans to bring forward some of their highlights shows — with India v Pakistan scheduled for 10.30pm on Sunday and both England v India (on June 30) and the final (July 14) for 10pm.
'We have to take a wide variety of factors into account, such as our contractual obligations and our other scheduled content,' he said. 'But the most important factor is that the World Cup cricket highlights are available free to air.'
It is an argument the ECB recognise, for all their gratitude to Sky. Why else would they agree to broadcast 21 matches in next summer's new Hundred competition on the BBC?
The answer lies in chief executive Tom Harrison's assertion that cricket can no longer afford to be rich but invisible, watched only by those who can afford a satellite subscription or the price of entry to international grounds.
Sky are not deaf to the protests, which makes it all the more infuriating that their own special deals are not more widely publicised.
Their contract-free service Now TV offers a 24-hour pass to all its channels for £8.99, and the dedicated cricket channel can be accessed for £100 for the entire summer — World Cup, Ashes, women's games and all.
The free-to-air argument, they feel, is based on emotion and economic illiteracy.
Youngsters, they say, consume media differently these days. And when footage of Ben Stokes's remarkable catch on the opening day of the World Cup against South Africa went viral on social media, you could see their point.
But there is nothing quite like live sports coverage, free to all, for hooking a boy or girl for life. And with many parents keeping their children away from smartphones until the age of 11, that leaves a lot of impressionable young minds outside cricket's bubble. Whether they can find a way to get inside will determine the sport's future.
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