The chairman of The Cricketer, Neil Davidson, certainly got on his soapbox during the May issue of the magazine, criticising the re-introduction of 50 over one day cricket in 2014 as the latest in a long line of moves that have had a negative effect on the game at county level. The preverbial cans of worms was well and truly opened.
To me the attractiveness of county cricket depends hugely on the wickets which are used. Most of Gloucestershire’s home
games are played on the slow, low pitches at Bristol. Contrast them with the much more responsive surroundings at Cheltenham
College, where the county spend 11 days in July, and you get a very different spectacle. The game develops more quickly and the
rewards are there for both batsman and bowler. The same contrast could be drawn between Leicester and Taunton.
For spectators, they need what marketing people call “an appointment to view.” Matches at regular times breeds the watching habit,and to that end again this season, Wednesday is the preferred day to start Championship games, with YB40 matches on Sundays, but this, to me, is where there is still work to do.
The finishing times of Sunday games that go the distance is far too late to encourage all but the keenest supporters of the away team. How many will go from Chelmsford to Chester Le Street or Old Trafford for a fixture that could end at 7.30 ?
I’m old enough to remember the old John Player League with its fifteen yard run-ups and 40 overs bowled in two hours and ten minutes.
My suggestion when we get 50 over cricket back next summer would be to trim 15 minutes off the available time to bowl the overs (down to three hours and fifteen minutes), cut the break between innings to 30 minutes, and start at 11.30. You would then be looking at a 6.30 finish, with more cricket for the paying public and a more sensible time to start the journey home.
The counter argument for long trips for one day matches has been ring fenced to some degree by the constant groups for the T20.
It makes sense for a short game, but repetition can be perceived as dull, especially when teams meet in the other competitions.
There are 4 pairings this summer that occur home and away in every format (Derbyshire against Durham, Essex against Hampshire, Glamorgan against Gloucestershire and Northants against Worcestershire). Northants also play three other teams in two competitions. Members at Edgbaston, Leicester, Old Trafford and Taunton get more variety than anyone.
At least the diary as far the players are concerned looks more sensible. They’re professional athletes after all, and few other sports would finish a match at 6 o’clock one evening, and start another one 200 miles away at 11 o’clock the following morning.
Gloucestershire, for example, have only 3 weekends where they change venue between Saturday and Sunday, and with each journey under two hours, that’s not unreasonable. There are longer trips, but with a day in between – essential for rest and recovery.
The cricket calendar is a curious beast, and yet you feel it shouldn’t be. This season the 16 Championship rounds are spread across 25 weeks. There are a minimum of 12 matches for each team in the YB40. The period in and around the T20 is lighter, with the ECB having taken the view that spreading the games means the tournament is less prone to bouts of bad weather. They are probably equally wary of saturation, despite the sell outs which regularly occur at Chelmsford, Hove and Taunton.
Perhaps Neil Davidson hankers for a County Championship of one division. Everyone would play everyone, as well as in what we’ll still call (for now) the YB40. Championship Wednesday to Saturday, and a Sunday YB40 game to follow against the same opposition. Clear a space for the T20, which stands alone. Less travelling for the players. Tick. Variety of opposition. Tick. Issues, however, come with it.
With 18 teams, there would be an imbalance of home and away games to be accounted for season on season, and do we really want to go back to Championship cricket with little or nothing on it from mid July onwards for half the teams ? Ah, cricket. Lovely cricket. Imperfect but still the staple of the english summer.
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