03 Feb

Channel 4 has won the rights to show England’s series against India that begins on Friday in a ground-breaking agreement that means Test cricket will return to terrestrial television in the UK for the first time in 16 years. Between 1999 and 2005 the broadcaster introduced innovations during their coverage including the introduction of 'The Analyst' Simon Hughes (pictured in The Guardian during the 5th Ashes Test in 2005).  

It is understood the global rights holder, Star Sports, has accepted a bid from Channel 4 for the live broadcast of the entire tour – four Tests, five Twenty20s and three one‑day internationals. 

The deal represents a huge coup for Channel 4, which submitted its bid to Star Sports last week – one described as “compelling” by insiders due to the free-to-air aspect – but still feared being gazumped by a late move from Sky or BT Sport. This did not materialise, however, although one of the two subscription broadcasters could still come on board, with the Star-Channel 4 deal understood to be agreed on a non-exclusive basis that allows additional satellite and digital partners. 

While three of the four Tests start at 4am in the UK – the third Test is a day-night match with a 9am start – the national lockdown could mean big audience numbers generated by England and India supporters, as well as potential newcomers. 

Channel 4 attracted a peak of 8.4m viewers when it last showed Test cricket in 2005 and a one-off deal with Sky to share the 2019 World Cup final brought in 15.4m over the course of the day. Research by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) suggested a third of this audience was watching cricket for the first time. 

Asked on Tuesday whether a potentially increased audience size would appeal, the England fast bowler Jofra Archer told The Guardian: “Yes. Mostly the kids as well, because any way you can inspire helps the next generation. Hopefully it goes through. It would be good to have back on the huge platform. It’s probably one of the few live sports on at the moment apart from football, so I guess a lot of people will be watching.” 

Channel 4 is yet to officially confirm the arrangement with the contract still to be signed, but has spent the past week sounding out pundits for studio work. It is expected to take the global feed from Star, including its commentators. 

TalkSport has already been confirmed as the radio rights-holder in the UK, with the BBC Test Match Special team set to revive the “Cricket Social” format when their pundits discuss the action in an online broadcast that does not have ball-by-ball commentary.   

John Stephenson 


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