Joe Root hopes Test cricket’s return to terrestrial television captures the imagination of a new audience as the England captain gears up to win his 100th cap with a vow there are plenty more runs still to come from his bat.
The four-match series against India that begins in Chennai on Friday will be the first Test cricket shown live on free-to-air television in the UK since England matches moved predominantly to Sky after the 2005 Ashes, with Channel 4 confirming on Wednesday it had secured the rights from Star Sports.
A combination of the national lockdown and a day-night third Test in Ahmedabad that starts at 9am UK time – the other three games begin five hours earlier – brings with it the prospect of bumper viewing figures for the sport, with a previous record peak of 8.7m viewers when Sky shared the 2019 World Cup final with Channel 4.
“It is brilliant for the game,” said Root, who follows his teammates Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson in becoming the 15th cricketer to play 100 Test matches for England. “We want to inspire a generation, the next generation.
“You look at the stuff Sky do and the reach they get, they do a wonderful job and they give great content for all the viewers. [But] this is a great opportunity to reach out to a new audience, to grow the game as we keep talking about and for it to be more accessible for everyone else.
“So it’s a great thing for the sport and hopefully people will tune in and watch us and have something to smile about at the end of it.”
Root, who made his debut in 2012 when England completed a historic 2-1 win in India, spoke of his pride at reaching his personal milestone. Of the 14 players to reach three-figures previously – a list that includes Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Graham Gooch – none did so with more than Root’s current tally of 8,249 runs.
The 30-year-old, whose side will wear black armbands to honour the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, said: “There are some fantastic players among those and many I’ve looked up to and admired for many years. It’s been amazing also to have shared a dressing room with a number of them as well.
“I hope it’s not near the end. I still feel like there’s a lot left in me at the moment and there’s certainly a burning desire to keep going and play as long as I can.
“I look back over the last nine years and I’m in a very different place now to when I first came into the team so who knows what the future holds. For now I’m just very excited about playing as much as I can and giving as much to the team as possible.”
This is a defining year for Root’s side and one that culminates in an attempt to reclaim the Ashes from Australia. Four Tests against India in India arguably represents a far tougher challenge, however, given the unfamiliar conditions and the hosts’ record of having lost one Test at home since that defeat to England just over eight years ago.
Asked if victory here would represent the greatest achievement of his career, Root replied: “As a captain I think it would be. When I came into the team in 2012 I played a very small part in that amazing series. I don’t think at the time I appreciated how hard it is to win in these conditions.
“To get the opportunity to play India off the back of them beating Australia in Australia – what a scalp that would be for us. There will be more pressure on them than us – they have an expectation to uphold that record in their conditions.
“It’s a big one, we’re all aware of that because it’s a very difficult place to come and win. But that doesn’t scare us and it shouldn’t. We certainly have the tools to win these four games. It should be really good fun.”
The Channel 4 deal, worth a reported £5m, is just for the Test leg of the tour but talks are ongoing as regards the eight white-ball fixtures that follow, with the non-exclusive terms allowing a possible partnership with BT Sport or Sky.
Both Channel 4 and the digital All 4 channel will show the live action, with highlights appearing on the latter, and TalkSport operating as the official radio broadcaster.