Fair-weather cricket fans are ruining the Ashes

You don’t know the first thing about county cricket

As the third Ashes test gets underway, some key questions need answering. Can England bounce back from their emasculating defeat at Lord’s? Will Ian Bell get back to his best? And why do we suddenly care about cricket so much?

While there are undoubtedly a few die-hard cricket fans in the country, at the heart of the Ashes and every other summer sporting event is the unspoken truth most people would be watching something else if they had the choice. Whether it’s the cricket, Wimbledon or Tour de France, they feign enthusiasm and over-analyse everything from Mitchell Johnson’s moustache to Maria Sharapova’s screams, egged on by the constant hamster wheel of TV coverage and oblivious to their own lack of knowledge.

You can spot these irritating “summer sports” fans quite easily as although they fall into two categories (the converted football fan and the alternative sport hipster), the results are the same. Both types of people will loudly tell anyone listening cricket/tennis/cycling/athletics is better than football. Despite not being able to name a single Australian fast bowler, they’ll mutter in pub corners about the impact overhead cloud cover will have on the swing of a cricket ball.

Lord's: The home of cricket all year round, not just in summer

Lord’s: The home of cricket all year round, not just in summer

These people didn’t care during the disastrous World Cup, neither were they watching for the genuinely entertaining one day series with New Zealand. Now, however, there’s no football and only transfers to talk about so they’ve had to scour the back pages for anything else they can occupy their time with. Today they’re saying why we should foster the Ashes rivalry in every sport, last week they were ambushing you with Chris Froome’s performance data. On and on it goes, all summer long.

The same thing happens every time the Olympics is on. Suddenly, marginal sports with no devoted fans are catapulted into the limelight and given a level of exposure which would be impossible if it wasn’t for BBC red button coverage. The greatest beneficiary of this has, of course, been cycling. According to a recent Sport England survey, participation numbers for over-16s have soared to 2.1 million per week.  Football has around 1.9 million. Yet despite this, nobody pays attention to cycling apart from the Tour de France.

This casual approach to following summer sports is leaving cricket in jeopardy. The sport has lost about 80,000 people playing it weekly since 2010. This can partly be blamed on some terrible England performances (two series whitewashes are never a great way to inspire potential players) and the decision to screen the sport on non-terrestrial channels, but its greatest problem is marketability. Cricket lasts around three hours in its shortest format and five days in its longest, and comes with a complex set of rules and technical terms, and most people just don’t have a sufficient attention span.

This is why the summer sports fan only starts crowing about Gary Ballance and the need for more than one spinner when the Ashes comes around. They’ll tune in when there’s nothing else to do and leave as soon as there’s something better and easier to follow. If you aren’t prepared to show commitment and interest to a sport all year round then what’s the point?

This lack of staying power shows up outside of sports too, in the way our generation needs a constant flow of festivals, superhero blockbusters and TV cliff-hangers to keep us stimulated. But it’s in the way summer sports are abused and neglected that we realise how short our attention spans are becoming and how easily some people will pretend to care about something if it gives them something interesting to say.

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