For years, cricket’s governing body has been aware that it is a game for aging, white middle class men.
As recently as last week Jos Buttler, England’s vice captain, highlighted the need to make the sport “cool” again.
And so in a bid to capture the attention of the nation’s youth, when the England team for the forthcoming World Cup was announced yesterday, players’ names were transformed into emojis.
Luckily for the marketing team, David Willey was a notable absence from the list, avoiding the need for any puerile jokes.
But while few disagreed with the need to appeal to a younger generation, many deemed the stunt “embarrassing” and told the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to “grow up”.
One fan wrote on Twitter: “Hope someone's getting sacked for this.”
The use of the emoji for a cup of coffee as a “cup of joe” - American slang - clearly confounded many while other interpretations were an obvious stretch.
Jenny Smith, ECB head of marketing, said: “The emoji challenge was a fun way to share the squad online and get people excited for what promises to be a wonderful summer of cricket. It’s great to see so many people taking on the challenge and talking about our team ahead of the Men’s World Cup.”
The ECB said it had teamed up with an “Emoji Translator” to come up with catchy short-form emoji codes for the team announcement.
Thus, the names of players including Eoin Morgan, Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood were transformed into pictures of medals, monkeys, peaches, suns and organs.
Ben Stokes, who last year faced trial over a fight outside a Bristol nightclub, was among those named in the team. Stokes was cleared of affray but he and team-mate Alex Hales admitted bringing the game into disrepute and were fined and given backdated bans by the ECB.
The only potential upset was the inclusion of Jofra Archer, the Barbados-born fast bowler, who played in the Caribbean until three years ago.
Former rules dictating that players had to have been resident in their adopted country for seven years before playing for the national side have recently been amended, meaning Archer is free to represent England, despite having played only three one-day internationals, bowling just 22 overs for his adopted country.
Willey, forced to forfeit his place as a result, was gracious in the face of crushing disappointment, tweeting a video of his young son dancing on Tuesday with the caption: “What can I say, I’m absolutely gutted. Still 100 per cent behind the lads. On a positive.....still winning at life!!”
It is not the first time this month an England team has been announced in an unorthodox fashion to capture the attention of young fans.
Members of the England team for the 2019 Women’s World Cup were named by high profile supporters including David Beckham, Emma Watson and even the Duke of Cambridge.
Phil Neville, the England women’s manager, said: “We have to make these players visible, we want everybody around the world to buy in to what will be the biggest Women's World Cup of all time."
For the ECB, there could be no better time harness support from new blood.
As well as hosting the World Cup, England are also the favourites to win the trophy, despite having never triumphed in the competition’s 34-year history.
The first ball will be bowled at The Oval on May 30. The England vs South Africa match will be attended by the Duke of Sussex who will meet the young people picked as flag bearers before officially opening the event.