The emergence of podcasts dedicated to cricket: an ideal platform for a complex sport.
If you were a fan of cricket during the 1990s but your mother wasn’t a fan of Rupert Murdoch, you settled for whatever coverage you could find. Summertime was bearable because Test cricket was still broadcasted on terrestrial TV. However, winter tours and international World Cups were frustratingly out of reach.
You improvised. Videos of practicing on the net in Lahore on a Saturday morning were featured on a show called Transworld Sport. Struggling to find live county scorecards on Ceefax. Searching through the newest Morrant catalog for the current season’s Surridges and Slazengers. Newspapers. Books. Elderly gentlemen on the radio. Magazines.
There was no simple solution to satisfy it. During one winter, England struggled in a Test series in India. A few weeks after the final Test in Mumbai (Hick 178; loss by innings), my uncle Paul sent me a collection of VHS tapes, which was helpful since he didn’t share his sister’s dislike for excessive capitalism. I had read that England’s defeat in the second Test in Chennai was saved by Alec Stewart’s 74 runs in 269 balls (312 minutes), most of which were defensively played with the pad rather than the bat. That was satisfactory enough for me. I watched all of it, every move and defensive action. Perhaps the point of all this is to show that the past was not as great as it is often made out to be.
Cricket is constantly evolving, and with it, the way we watch and engage with it. The pace of change is unrelenting. As advertisers and online editors know all too well, content is always in demand. However, while there is now more coverage of the sport from various sources, the concept of true authenticity can be difficult to achieve. The broadcasting market is oversaturated and highly competitive, making it challenging to stay on top of all the content. Despite the game’s vastness and continuous presence, our ability to watch and listen to it still relies on whichever media company holds the rights.
The game is present, but not fully, and the same can be said for its players. The world of cricket now prioritizes money and power, causing its top players to exist in a separate realm that is beyond our grasp and understanding. Just consider that the IPL is the second most valuable sports league globally, with a price tag of $11 billion if one wished to purchase it. As the gap between heroes and fans continues to widen, a grassroots movement has emerged to fill the void. These homemade videos, often created by unknown or moderately famous enthusiasts, are unpolished and authentic expressions of love for the absurdity of the game. This was not the case five years ago, but now they are abundant.
This summer marked the 20th anniversary of the initial airing of what is believed to be the first “podcast” – a political talk show called Open Source. Since then, this relatively new form of media has grown exponentially. As of last month, there were over three million active podcasts, with an additional million that are not currently producing new content. In the past year alone, over 30 million podcast episodes were released in more than 100 different languages.
Life’s too short to count up the ever-changing number of cricket podcasts, but there’s a lot. The majority – at least until recently – will have sprung up organically, labours of love for upstart content providers, shots in the dark that in a few cases have grown into a livelihood.
The Australian cricket scene has taken inspiration from The Grade Cricketer. Created by Sam Perry and Ian Higgins, the podcast is based on their comical book of the same name. It continues to revolve around the main theme of amateur cricket’s struggles and disappointments, while also showcasing popular cricketers and even securing a spot on national TV. The show has a loyal following and a devoted fanbase, with YouTube serving as an additional outlet for their witty and entertaining content.
Adam Collins, who was referred to as the “leader” of podcasting by the Wisden Almanack in its annual review, launched The Final Word with his friend Geoff Lemon in 2015. They were both already developing their skills as ball-by-ball commentators on different platforms, but podcasting was still a new venture at the time. Their confidence, extensive vocabularies, and matching hairstyles propelled them forward; their passion and extensive knowledge continue to sustain the podcast.
What they have found is a captive audience of like-minds searching for the same thing. “People wanted to find their own crew, their own people to experience cricket with,” Collins says. “The origin story of podcasts is online forums – same kind of energy, same type of people who share similar values. They see that through a podcast. They’re more likely to stick around with it and that’s how we feel with it too. We found our people, but our people also found us.”
The Final Word is a weekly program that is responsive by need and conversational in style. It can also be humorous and filled with affection. The host explains, “It must have a sense of warmth, otherwise people will seek entertainment elsewhere.” Podcasts are easily accessible to anyone with internet access and are typically free, creating a comforting and unpretentious sense of familiarity. People listen to them while commuting, in the bathroom, during a bath, and while getting ready for bed.
Anyone can start one. “The bar to entry is low, and so they are a democratising force,” says Jon Hotten, the award-winning journalist and host of The Nightwatchman podcast series. “The good ones that have something to say will prosper.”
Feeling unoccupied during the initial lockdown and encouraged by their Instagram followers, professional cricket players Kate Cross and Alex Hartley began toying with the concept of creating a podcast. They searched for information on how to make one, but found themselves inexperienced and unsure of how to begin or upload it.
Hartley’s England contract being terminated was the catalyst for taking the idea more seriously. They decided to try it out and recorded it on their phones while sitting on her sofa. Editing a lengthy two-hour conversation into a concise 30 minutes was a challenging task. It ended up being a complete disaster.
However, they discovered that they had a message to share. Instead of just focusing on the enjoyable aspects of professional sports, they shed light on the hidden difficulties, and in doing so, they found their voice. The podcast, No Balls, was unique at the time as there were no other female athletes in the podcasting world who were doing something similar. A year later, No Balls became a part of the BBC’s collection of fantastic podcasts, which included Stumped, a podcast that addresses current issues, and Tailenders, a popular podcast centered around cricket and its devoted fanbase.
“It’s like therapy for me now,” Cross shares. “There are moments when we dread recording the podcast. But 40 minutes later, we’re cracking up and I feel a sense of relief. And if it helps us, hopefully it can also bring some joy to our listeners.”
The doors burst open. When she’s not playing for England’s bowling team, Cross also appears on Sky’s coverage of the World Cup. Hartley, a well-regarded BBC analyst, was recently named as the assistant spin coach for the men’s Multan Sultans team.
Although the concept of No Balls is unique, it is no longer uncommon for well-known current players to participate. Mark Wood takes on a second role as a co-host with comedian Miles Jupp on Middle Please, Umpire. Steven Finn shares hosting duties on Zero Ducks Given with TMS’s effortlessly charming Daniel Norcross. Jimmy Anderson is one of the three hosts on Tailenders. Even Stuart Broad and Stephen Fry once collaborated on a show, although it eventually faded away. However, as Hotten points out, having big names involved does not always guarantee success. “Having a lot of money or sponsors doesn’t matter if the content is uninteresting or unoriginal, as Prince Harry learned.”
The combination of the medium and the game is perfect. Cricket is a never-ending conversation, a vast collection of words and numbers, theories and historical facts. According to Hotten, who oversaw the Nightwatchman series, it is also contemplative and reflective – a space for intellectuals to engage in thoughtful discussions. This allows for the exploration of significant topics such as retirement, the humor of cricket, and its relationship with war through multiple perspectives. These conversations can lead to valuable insights, as even individuals like a novelist who plays cricket casually on weekends can share common ground with a former international captain.
Long-form shows have proved surprisingly popular. Collins’ and Norcross’ collaboration on the history of cricket commentary, Calling The Shots, a six-episode opus made during lockdown and rebooted last month, demonstrated that serious in-depth study will still find a wide audience. Perhaps the idea that we’re all zombified by obliterated concentration spans only applies when it comes to dull stuff.
The Sport Social Podcast Network (SSPN) includes numerous popular podcasts, including 32 dedicated to cricket, among its 300+ shows covering various sports. The founder, Sophie Hind, has a passion for sports and previous experience in commercial radio. Despite claims that audio and radio are declining, Hind has observed the opposite – a growth in the audio industry.
They assist in covering expenses. Wisden’s podcast, hosted by Yas Rana and with appearances from Mark Butcher and other journalists and players, has become a key element in “the model,” a reliable source of revenue supported by multiple advertisers and a devoted audience.
According to Rana, podcasts offer a unique level of depth that is rarely found in other broadcast media. Unlike other forms of media, there are no limitations on episode length, allowing for in-depth discussions on specific topics such as the struggles of English spinners or the success of Leicestershire’s season start. Additionally, podcasts have a strong connection with their listeners, as their show is shaped by their contributions. This creates a more intimate dynamic between the creators and consumers, potentially leading to a deeper emotional investment in the content.
The Sports Podcast Network (SSPN) was established two years ago with the aim of becoming the largest sports podcast network globally. It has already achieved this status in Europe, with numerous high-profile football clubs on board to create their own officially endorsed shows. However, county cricket has not yet joined the network, although discussions with some clubs have taken place to consider potential ideas for their own content. The overall response has been typical, with many teams expressing interest but citing budget constraints as a barrier.
Discussions have also taken place with the ECB directly to establish a joint strategy. While these discussions are still ongoing, Hind believes it is crucial for the English game to utilize this platform in order to reach its audience. “Our ultimate goal is to expand the appeal of the game,” she states, “and to promote equal representation for both men and women, and generate interest in communities where there may not have been interest or opportunity before.”
Podcasts, the great DIY democratisers, may not yet have changed the way we talk and think about cricket. But in a stratified and bloated landscape, these daily darts of heart and intellect can bring it a little closer together.