Charles Graham: Imagine if Sky had screened Botham’s Ashes!

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Thank goodness for cheap and cheerful darts!

At the rate we are going, those who don’t subscribe to costly satellite channels will only have a regular diet of this live sport to sustain them (and even then they don’t get to see the better of the two World Championships because that’s on Murdochvision too).

I doubt whether I would have been enthused to take up cricket had I not sat absorbed in front of a telly in 1981 watching Botham and Willis performing a cricketing miracle at Headingley

Had we always had to pay to watch the greatest live sport on TV - whether it be cricket tests, US Open tennis or golf’s Ryder Cup - I wouldn’t feel so aggrieved now.

But most of us remember being able to watch all of these spectacles for the price of the licence fee and in those days they played to much bigger audiences.

I doubt whether I would have been enthused to take up cricket had I not sat absorbed in front of a telly in 1981 watching Botham and Willis performing a cricketing miracle at Headingley. A 30-minute highlights package (probably once I’d heard the result) wouldn’t have been half so memorable. And at that age listening to it on the radio (Test Match Special is wonderful but you have to have a good grasp of the game first in order to visualise) wouldn’t have done it for me then either.

I am sure there are countless other folk with similar tales to tell in other sports which now have satellite viewing figures in the hundreds of thousands rather than the terrestrial millions.

But of course the various sports’ governing bodies have to watch the bottom line and it doesn’t matter to next year’s figures that a drastic reduction in the number of viewers will ultimately cause the grass roots of these sports to be much sparser than of yore.

And highlights programmes are better than nothing (see non-coverage of England cricket’s winter tours) but they are undoubtedly second best, and lack much of the thrill of real-time sport.

But that’s what fans reliant on the BBC will have to do in future if they want to watch the British Open.

The broadcaster announced last week that it is relinquishing its live coverage of golf’s oldest and biggest tournament to Sky a year earlier than originally planned.

It cited increasing pressure on its budgets which are only set to increase in the years to come as new culture secretary John Whittingdale seeks to clip the Beeb’s wings somewhat.

I had feared something like this would happen. The public subscription broadcaster has been priming viewers for such disappointments for some time now and we have also heard that if the licence fee has to be cut too much, the BBC’s flagship dramas and documentaries may be adversely hit too.

Given a choice between those products, at which they often exclusively excel, and having to compete with far wealthier subscription broadcasters for sport coverage (which is far more “point and shoot”), one would grudgingly have to concede that the latter would have to win out.

But I would hope that before it got to such tests of wisdom that the BBC first looked at its administrative side: famously bloated with middle management sinecures and bottomless expense accounts.

And how about it not spending licence-payers’ money on online news coverage in direct competition with local media?

The BBC is a magnificent organisation and the last thing I want to see is its reputation for great television damaged by over-draconian cuts. But if it is struggling then I would hope that its dramas, comedies, documentaries and sport coverage (and, OK, TV news) would be the last to suffer.