Cricket has never been the biggest draw for sports watchers in the pub but there’s nothing quite like an Ashes series to heighten the interest. Australia v England is unrivalled as a match-up in world cricket – particularly as India so rarely play Pakistan these days – and for many people, their favourite memories of watching cricket will be Ashes memories.
Ashes Test matches itinerary (start times in GMT):
23-27 November: First Test - The Gabba, Brisbane (12midnight)
2-6 December: Second Test - Adelaide Oval, Adelaide (day/night) (4am)
14-18 December: Third Test - Waca, Perth (2.30am)
26-30 December: Fourth Test - MCG, Melbourne (11.30pm)
4-8 January: Fifth Test – SCG, Sydney (11.30pm)
Partly due to time difference and also because England don’t tend to fare as well in Australia as they do in England, most of those more recent memories will evoke scenes from Headingley or Trent Bridge rather than the Gabba or the MCG.
When the First Test gets under way in Brisbane at midnight on 23 November, last orders will have been rung in the vast majority of pubs up and down the UK, so while there will be plenty of die-hards sitting through the night watching the drama unfold on BT Sport, the majority of cricket fans will dream of England heroics right through to their early morning alarms, blissfully unaware of what’s actually happened.
What’s the likely outcome on the pitch?
If your pint glass is half full, then you’ll be well aware of the statistic that since they ended 19 long years of Australian domination in 2005, England have won five out of the last seven Ashes series. If it’s half empty though, you’ll no doubt be more focused on the fact that the two defeats suffered in that period were painful to say the least – both 5-0 whitewashes in the white heat of the Aussies’ back yard.
As England prepare to embark on the latest showdown for cricket’s oldest and most regularly contested rivalry, minus their vice captain Ben Stokes (thanks to his high-profile extra-curricular antics) and looking decidedly short of obvious match winners, it’s tough to make a convincing case for them to win this time.
Australia rarely lose a home Test series, but they were turned over by South Africa a year ago. That’s the same South African team beaten home and away by England in the past two years. England tend to win at home and lose away though; an inconsistency that is borne out in the record during their 33 Tests under Aussie coach Trevor Bayliss, which reads: won 15, lost 14, drawn 4.
In the previous 35 tests in Australia, England have won just six, with just one series victory in 2010-11. That run stretches back to a victorious series in 1986-87 when England’s team had even been written off by the British media pack. One penned the now infamous line “there are only three things wrong with this England. They can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field” on the eve of an unexpected 2-1 series triumph.
There are plenty of pundits keen to suggest that Australia are not that much of a force to be reckoned with. The facts don’t really bear this out, however. Their captain Steve Smith is the world-leading test batsman by a comfortable distance from the number two in the ICC rankings, England’s captain Joe Root. Australia also has combustible opener David Warner at number 5 in the world, while England’s next best is former skipper Alastair Cook, in 11th. England can boast the world’s leading bowler Jimmy Anderson as the series begins, but the Aussies have a ferocious battery of quick bowlers who thrive on the bouncier wickets the weather and groundsmen produce for them at home.
The odds suggest that England are up against it, with the Aussies odds-on to win the series and England around 7-2 and England could do with a quick start if they are to prevail. Unfortunately Brisbane’s Gabba is the ultimate cricketing fortress – Australia have not lost a Test in Queensland since 1988, so an England win would be not only against all odds, but also potentially tumultuous for the series.
This lot can bat, can bowl and can field though – it remains to be seen just how well they can do it under the most pressure they will ever have experienced.
How can I attract punters in to watch the Ashes?
BT Sport won exclusive rights to the series in 2015 as part of a five-year deal with Cricket Australia.
Its live and exclusive Ashes coverage will reunite the captains from the legendary 2005 series Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting in the commentary box. Vaughan and Ponting are part of an all-star BT Sport punditry line-up. All-time cricketing greats Geoffrey Boycott and Adam Gilchrist will be joined in the commentary box by three-time Ashes winner Graeme Swann and Damien Fleming, who won the Ashes twice with Australia, alongside award-winning broadcaster Alison Mitchell. The coverage will be presented by BT Sport’s Matt Smith.
Simon Green, head of BT Sport, said: “This is an action-packed and exciting winter for BT Sport with a vast amount of live sport to show, including the biggest event in the cricket calendar, the Ashes. Our viewers will enjoy the analysis of both English and Australian cricket legends all of whom have played in the Ashes and who will be following events as they unfold in Australia.”
BT Sport will show every minute of the action exclusively live. While there are very few establishments that will stay open all night to show the live coverage, however, the daily 90-minute no-spoiler highlights programme may well be the best option for British publicans hoping to entice customers through the doors with the winter cricket offer.
BT Sport has tools to help highlight its coverage. A spokesperson said: “We have made available special point-of-sale packs for any pubs looking to make the most of the Ashes and subsequent one-day series. The pack will contain multiple posters as well as a window sticker dedicated to the Ashes and is available free for all pubs by logging onto www.btsportprint.co.uk and selecting the Ashes pack.
“As well as this we are also producing digital assets promoting the series so that pubs can promote it on their websites and social channels,” said the spokesperson. These will be regularly updated throughout the series to ensure it reflects the key moments as they happen.”
What is the GBPA Sports Pub of the Year going to do?
Paul Eastwood, the driving force behind London's Famous Three Kings, the two-time Sports Pub of the Year, is a huge cricket fan and says he will be investing in BT Sports as a punter at home; but he can’t see a viable way to show the through-the-night Ashes Tests in his pub.
“I would love to stay up all night and show it,” says Eastwood, “but the games last for five days and like most people, I would have licensing issues. I can’t see all that many late-night venues showing the cricket anyway, and unless you have a licence that routinely runs through till about 6am, it wouldn’t be worth it.
"I’d happily be here with one other member of staff, but we’d need to have a couple of doormen at least and at £15 an hour, that’s the real killer. Transport is also closed during the evening and with no District Line, it would be harder to get to us.”
He won’t be ignoring the opportunity however and intends to make a “big deal” of the Ashes to increase daytime footfall and dwell-time. “There are plenty of highlights on during the day and also the opportunity to run the whole day through again ‘as-live’ if we want to do that,” he says.
“It’s on BT Sport for the first time, so it will be interesting to see how many people subscribe. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who want to watch. Test cricket doesn’t necessarily bring people into the pub, but once they are there, it definitely increases the amount of time they stay if they are watching it.”
Increased interest from punters usually correlates directly with the success of the England team. Eastwood says the expected absence of Ben Stokes and England’s fragile batting line-up make it hard to see England retaining the famous Ashes urn, but he’s not given up hope. “We’ve won Down Under before when people least expected it, so why not this time?” he laughs.