Free-to-air Ashes the key to grassroots recovery

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The country has been gripped by Ashes fever again this week as the series opened up at Cardiff yesterday.

Ten years ago Flintoff’s Ashes dominated the summer sporting calendar, as the tourists, who had been the top dogs for quite some while in this duel, were put on the rack by the likes of Freddie, Steve Harmison and Simon Jones.

The dramatic 2-1 series win was available to a wider audience as every minute of the action was shown live on Channel Four, and there was a surge in interest in cricket in this country, which had a knock-on effect at grassroots level.

Since then Sky Sports has snapped up the rights to all forms of cricket, Test and county, and this has had an impact on the sport.

Events such as the Ashes should be made free-to-air to allow more people to see the action (8.2 million was the highest audience watching the 2005 series compared to only 1.92m peak in the Sky-broadcast 2009 peak), and most importantly to give youngsters a chance to get acquainted with the sport.

Over the past few seasons, our local cricket leagues have been losing teams at an alarming rate, part of a national trend that has seen participation levels drop.

There has been a 7% decrease at amateur level from 2013 to 2014, according to England and Wales Cricket Board figures.

The Beckett and Derwent Valley Leagues have tried their best to bring in new ideas to try and keep players interested, such as earlier starts and loan schemes, and they must be applauded for their efforts.

Hopefully England will give the Antipodeans more of a contest this time around after the depressing 5-0 series defeat in the last Ashes Down Under.

There does seem to be signs of a change in mood in the England team thanks to the likes of Yorkshire batsman Joe Root and his fellow Tyke, opener Adam Lyth, from Whitby, as a more attacking brand of cricket emerges under new coach Trevor Bayliss and his assistant Paul Farbrace.

This type of positive play will hopefully give cricket the feelgood factor again, and will kickstart interest among junior and senior leagues across the country.

It is just a shame that - apart from Channel 5’s daily highlights - Sky viewers will be the only ones to witness such drama unfold.