The resounding victory scored by England men’s cricket team in the first Test match in Chennai, India on February 9 was truly historic. India had lost only one of their most recent 35 Tests at home and had not lost in Chennai since 1999. The victory was largely assured by the England captain, Joe Root, who produced the highest ever individual score by an English player in a test in India. The icing on the cake was provided by fast bowler James Anderson, whose devastating display of swing bowling turned the momentum on the final day inexorably in England’s favour.
The match was also notable because it was the first time England’s test team had appeared live on UK terrestrial television since 2005. Historically England (men’s) Test matches had been deemed sporting “crown jewels” of such national interest that they must be available live and on free-to-air. But this meant the game missed out on the huge potential income from broadcast rights on pay TV.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) successfully petitioned government and at the end of 2004 it was announced that Test cricket would be demoted to the B-list after 2005, meaning it could be bought up by the likes of Sky TV for exclusive broadcast on subscription channels. Since then, with a very few exceptions, anyone not subscribing to pay TV has not been able to watch live international cricket in the UK.
It was terrible timing because the 2005 series was also truly remarkable, as viewers in the UK got to watch their team win a hard-fought series to break Australia’s 16-year domination of the Ashes, actually winning the trophy on home soil for the first time in 18 years. In one BBC Radio 5 Live poll in 2005, 80% of respondents stated that they now preferred cricket to football. The television deal with Sky had been announced in December 2004 but grumblings turned to dismay in the autumn as people realised what the public would now be missing.