Paul Collingwood says thrilling Ashes series is drawing new fans to cricket

Paul Collingwood says thrilling Ashes series is drawing new fans to cricket

England’s assistant coach Paul Collingwood believes this summer’s Ashes excitement could spark a cricket boom in the country.

Three thrilling Tests and three nerve-racking finishes at Edgbaston, Lord’s and Headingley mean this is already the most exciting men’s Ashes in a generation, while the women’s series is also reaching new heights as it plays out in front of record crowds.

Collingwood made a fleeting appearance in the final match of the 2005 series against Australia, a rivalry that became a national obsession and made mainstream stars of players like Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen.

England's 2005 Ashes side still holds a special place in the hearts of cricket fans.
England’s 2005 Ashes side still holds a special place in the hearts of cricket fans (Rui Vieira/PA)

That still stands as a high watermark for Test cricket in modern times and, although the Ashes in no longer on free-to-air television, Sky Sports have reported record viewing figures for both series and Collingwood feels a real connection is being made with old and new followers.

A fitting climax looks all but certain, with England 2-1 down and seeking a rousing comeback victory and Australia aiming for a first away win since 2001.

“It’s been enthralling, gripping stuff and it feels like it’s not just the the regular cricket fans who are switching on, it’s reaching a bit further than that,” Collingwood told the PA news agency ahead of next week’s fourth Test at Emirates Old Trafford.

“People just can’t wait for the cricket to be on. The 2005 Ashes was an inspiration for people to get involved, to go out there have have a try and participation went through the roof. That’s what we want.

“It really feels like there’s nothing better going on in the sporting world right now. These guys are entertainers. When the team is playing like it is, it’s amazing to watch, there hasn’t been an hour when it’s been boring.

“I’m sitting on the edge of my seat watching and you don’t want to move. The Ashes is one step on the journey this side wants to go on in taking this exciting brand of cricket on and we hope everyone will follow us.

“Baz (McCullum, head coach) and Ben Stokes didn’t keep it a secret when they took over – they want Test cricket to be as entertaining as it can be and that’s been behind everything we’ve done over the last year.”

Both teams have had a chance to get away after England kept the series alive with victory in Leeds, the last significant gap in the schedule before the contest concludes with back-to-back Tests.

There are selection issues to settle on both sides and injury niggles to monitor. England will recall record wicket-taker James Anderson at his home ground, with Ollie Robinson likeliest to make way on grounds of fitness and form, but they will look to keep the majority of their winning team together in Manchester.

“This break will have recharged the batteries, which we needed because it’s been high intensity stuff and it can be draining,” Collingwood said.

“It’s even draining for us on the sidelines. The guys have shown they can make good decisions under pressure, but it’ll be good to get those bodies and minds back in shape.

“As coaches it’s about creating a relaxed environment and making sure the boys enjoy themselves, that’s what really allows them to bring their best game into Test matches.

“You want to be at 100% and I think in my career I tended to hit 60 or 70% because there was always that fear of making mistakes.

“These guys aren’t worried about negative consequences and it allows them to show their skills off.”