Darley Dale is a small commuter town just outside Matlock with a population of around 6,000, its cricket club dates back to the 1860s and plays today in the Derbyshire County Cricket League Division 3 North. In the cricketing summer of 1975, remembered now as much as anything for the first World Cup, it played host to a Sunday League match, the scorecard for which shows the home county with seven who played Test cricket and the visiting Hants side three of whom have since entered the ICC Hall of Fame. Unusually for the 70s there is a clip of film of the game on YouTube.
The crowd was around 5,000, those of us who headed straight into the Square and Compass pub afterwards fondly remember it, even if Darley might be seen now as a very small stage for such talented players, the world of cricket before Kerry Packer. Yet no question that the Sunday League did a more than decent job regenerating the game, fondly remembered because of it thanks to the Beeb’s coverage and to games played in places that kids could get to. All told it was played on 127 grounds.
The Beeb’s cameras were at almost 50 of them: in the first season at the Oval, Brian Johnston joining John Arlott and Jim Laker in the commentary box and the Oval, Landudno, where it was Richie Benaud. In the years that followed games from other smaller places such as Lydney and Tring were broadcast, medium size conurbations such as Bath and Maidstone and larger ones, Bradford and Portsmouth, among them.
Sundays being the way they were then cricket got a free run on the tv schedules until Sunday Grandstand came along in 1981, WCFs shared coverage with racing and tennis, the 40 over games not. There was a decade and more when FTA cricket was as much the domestic game as Test matches, although later squeezed and then mainly England before Channel 4.
And the significance of all this for now? The ECB has recently said the average age of a cricket supporter is 50, the game might have gone more commercial in the 21st century but it is still heavily dependent on those who took to it in the era when it was FTA. Reducing the age difficult given how little the game is played in schools, and if the experience of the SL is anything to go by there probably needs to be a lot of domestic cricket FTA for it to impact.
As for taking the game round the country, the Victorians with help from WG managed it, the SL did something similar, so how good will those in charge now turn out to be? In their high chatter this lockdown there has been some recognition that The 100 is not really all that much about attracting a new, younger, audience; a certain realism which seems like one step in the right direction. Step two, play more games on outgrounds? Hopefully they will get onto that sooner rather than later.
Numbers compiled from Cricket Archive, the Radio Times listings from the BBC’s Genome Project.