Indian cricket fans celebrating
Indian cricket fans celebrating © AFP (file photo)

The 2018 FIFA World Cup may be attracting viewers across the planet but cricket has a huge audience too, with a fan base of more than a billion people, a major new survey says. The report, conducted by Nielsen Sports for ICC, put the number of fans at 1.039 billion — mostly male, living in South Asia, and with an average age of 34. However, 39 per cent are female, the survey says, adding that the venerable five-day Test format remains popular, attracting interest from 70 per cent of fans.

ICC said it was the biggest market research project into the sport, involving 19,000 interviews around the world with fans aged 16 to 69. In a conference call from Dubai, ICC chief executive Dave Richardson said it showed the sport needs to retain its focus on all three international formats: ”We get a number of doomsayers predicting the death of Tests, even 50-over cricket, but actually the strategy to focus on all three formats is still probably the right way to go.”

He added that the upcoming World Test Championship, starting in July next year, will only enhance the popularity of the game’s traditional format: ”I hope it will be a significant rise in interest around the world and will add to the number of fans following Tests.”

ICC also said that a “global strategy” was in the works to make cricket “an easier sport to follow” — the arcane “Laws of Cricket” published by Lord’s Cricket Ground has 82 pages. Jargons such as googlies, jaffas, maidens and chin music make cricket notoriously inaccessible to newcomers, while the sport’s support remains rooted in its traditional markets.

“Passion for cricket in the sub-continent drives 90 per cent of the fans,” said Aarti Dabas, ICC’s Head of Media Rights, Broadcast and Digital.

The survey also identified almost 300 million active participants over the age of 16, and said 87 per cent of fans want T20 cricket included in the Olympics.