A Sky News poll of cricket fans shows a clear majority – 57% – believe today’s youth are not attracted to the sport.
That’s exactly the argument that has landed the country’s top cricket administrator in hot water.
England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves said: “The younger generation, whether you like it or not, are just not attracted to cricket.
“They want something different. They want it to be more exciting. They want it shorter.”
Something shorter is what Graves is delivering: A much-criticised 100-ball per team competition from 2020, live on Sky and on terrestrial TV.
Early evening, bite-sized cricket with a family bent for a modern audience.
Traditionalists have accused the Costcutter founder of everything from ill-conceived planning to not actually liking cricket.
The sound of leather on willow has been drowned out by the sharpening of knives.
But the Sky Data poll suggests concerns about England’s national summer sport are well-founded, especially regarding the longer form of the game.
Less than half of cricket fans questioned – 48% – gave test cricket as their favourite format.
Around the world, the decline of the five-day game has been clear for many years, with crowds sometimes measured in hundreds rather than tens of thousands.
The Ashes has always been an exception, but this winter they were overshadowed – and outrated on TV – in Australia by the country’s domestic 20-over competition, the Big Bash.
England all-rounder Moeen Ali said: “The Ashes crowds were quite disappointing. That’s when I thought, ‘actually, we’re struggling a bit’.”
Even in this country, reaction to the 4-0 thrashing England received was more muted than previously. No questions in the House, no sackings.
The Big Bash, by contrast, was Australia’s most-watched TV output 31 nights out of 35.
It’s that kind of audience Graves is chasing here.
Some players are ahead of him. England internationals Adil Rashid and Alex Hales turned their backs this spring on test (and County Championship) cricket to focus solely on shorter formats.
Understandable, having seen their teammate Ben Stokes, pending court case notwithstanding, pick up a £1.4m contract to play in the 20-over Indian Premier League.
Stokes himself remains in the test fold, and is in the England team at Lord’s this week. But a third of fans in the Sky poll do not expect test cricket still to be around in its current form in 20 years.
That figure, intriguingly, drops to a quarter among 18 to 34-year-olds. But it is a substantial chunk either way, casting a big cloud over the start of what has been a major plank of an English summer for more than a century.
Sky Data interviewed a representative sample of 1,276 cricket fans by SMS on 16 May 2018. Data are weighted to the profile of the population.
For full Sky Data tables, please click here.