The Guardian view on cricket: play the game | Editorial

The game is shrinking in its homeland, but it still thrills hundreds of thousands

Once in a while sport throws up some feat of truly astonishing athleticism. Professional sportspeople operate all the time at a level which most of us could never for a moment attain, but much of the time they make it look easy or at least unremarkable to anyone who has never tried to imitate them. And then something happens like the catch Ben Stokes produced in England’s World Cup cricket match against South Africa, when he leaped like a cat after a bird in flight, twisting in the air to seize a ball that had seemed a certain six. Not only do the spectators understand that they could never do it – it’s hard to believe that any human being could manage it.

Yet in England the sport seems caught in a pattern of slow cultural retreat. Around 8 million people watched the final day of the last Ashes Test broadcast on Channel 4 in 2005; 360,000 watched the climax of last year’s Test series against India on Sky. Football saturates the culture. Millions will watch the match in Madrid on Saturday. Broadcasters pay dizzying sums for it, knowing that the viewers, and advertisers, will follow them. Cricket remains a special interest.

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