The BBC began airing live Test coverage in 1938. Len Hutton laboured for his world-record 364 runs throughout the two London Tests against Australia at Lord’s and the Oval, which were broadcast.


In 1963, Brian Johnston was hired as the first cricket contributor for television. After that, the BBC’s coverage of the sport changed only to go from monochrome to colour and include replay capabilities.


In Australia in 1976, the Kerry Packer Scandal fundamentally altered international cricket. The Australian government turned down Channel Nine’s sizable offer for exclusive broadcast rights. Instead, ABC, the conventional broadcasters, continued to offer that privilege at a significantly lower price.


In 1977, Channel Nine’s powerful owner, Packer, who was irate and launched the rival World Series for his own cameras, signed the majority of the greatest players to lucrative contracts. At this point, cricket started to be aggressively marketed and sold on television.

The white ball (they initially attempted yellow), coloured apparel, many camera angles, stump cameras, and floodlit games were among Packer’s ideas that helped to shape attitudes in England.


Sky pushed their way in by investing in England’s overseas Tests, which the BBC had hitherto avoided, and fortunately for them, Graham Gooch’s unexpected victory for England in Jamaica in February 1990 led to the first live television broadcast of a whole Test from a foreign country.

Before merging with Sky later that year, British Satellite Broadcasting covered the Benson & Hedges Cup final, a significant county match, for the first time from space.


In a combined £60 million four-year deal, Sky acquired the rights to domestic one-day internationals and county cricket in 1994, but the BBC kept control of test matches and the championship knockout tournament.


The BBC lost its exclusive broadcast rights to Sky and Channel 4 in 1998. It was expected that Sky would make a sizable offer for four years of joint home coverage with Channel 4. The England and Wales Cricket Board received a £103 million satellite-terrestrial contract.


The comforter of our time is nostalgia. The BBC is aware of this and has so spent lockdown soothing our existential anxiety with glorious reruns of the Olympics, Wimbledon, and West Indies tours. Older fans will quietly sigh with relief when the corporation broadcasts Sunday’s Twenty20 match between England and Pakistan, the first live cricket TV broadcast in twenty years.

Cricket and the Beeb formerly shared a marriage. The BBC had a virtual monopoly on broadcasting the game for 60 years, having shown the inaugural game on television in 1938, giving it more coverage than any other ball sport. Whether it was the friendly genie Brian Johnston, the headmistress-like Peter West, or the silky-toned Tony Lewis, each generation of viewers acquired their own spirit guide. Up to the Great Divorce of 1998, it was a union made at St. John’s Wood.

England’s most impressive Test victory in more than ten years came against South Africa during the same summer that the BBC lost the rights to broadcast the series. Through a 1999 World Cup campaign that they shared with Sky, they persevered despite being severely injured. With shadows moving slowly behind sightscreens, grass growing around a ball, and a pocket watch ticking, the opening images give the impression that nobody has completely gotten the tournament’s spirit. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these images unmistakably convey the message that “cricket is an old-fashioned game that takes all day.”

Since then, cricket has advanced more quickly than a Jos Buttler slog sweep. T20 was not even on the ECB’s radar in 1999. The shot with the most flair in the game was a gutsy late cut. As for a system for reviewing decisions, forget it. The only time you saw an umpire sway was when the score reached 111 and David Shepherd was having trouble standing on one leg.

The BBC’s loss of Test coverage

The BBC’s loss of Test coverage was briefly alarming for cricket fans who preferred things to stay the same, which is to say practically all cricket fans. It was awful to think about the advertisements at the end of each over (what would we do if we couldn’t see the field change between ends?). Yet, Richie Benaud’s comforting beige suits were placed front and centre by C4’s producers to ease the changeover. Cricket coverage was completely reimagined between C4 and Sky, becoming a higher energy, more in-depth analytical product than we had ever seen.


Yet at least one thing has remained the same since then. Michael Jackson, the chief executive of C4, stated in 1998 that their coverage would be geared on the “younger, ethnic audience of the game.” Even 20 years later, English cricket still has that aspiration. Stephen Lyle, a TV executive who was born to Jamaican parents and grew up idolising the West Indies while growing up in Luton, a town with a big Asian player community, is in charge of overseeing the BBC’s new programme.


The new cricket shows on the BBC, according to Lyle, won’t just focus on the action but also provide entertainment in and of itself. The good news is that the company has recently shown that it is highly capable of producing interesting material, particularly with the Tail Enders podcast. Greg James, Felix White, and Jimmy Anderson have created an environment where everyone feels welcome, regardless of whether they have ever watched a game of cricket. Just like the first time Mattchin, their go-to sidekick, dialled in.


It’s true that Test Match Special has continued to be a crucial service during the years of the wilderness and that the BBC’s voice on the game continues to be highly respected and well-loved. The first to note that cricket has never left the BBC is Lyle. Because to its increasingly diverse ensemble and the emergence of female talent like Alison Mitchell and Isa Guha, it has also happily lost much of the formality and old-school tie that once defined it. Michael Vaughan and Mark Ramprakash were spotted on video wearing white sneakers underneath their suits in a recent highlights presentation. What Peter West would have thought of that is a mystery.

Aatif Nawaz and Andy Zaltzman, not one but two comedians, will be part of the BBC team, and Anderson, who has been appearing frequently on TMS, will also be included. It seems like a fun group. Perhaps the best moment for cricket to return to India is during a pandemic.

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