Another Trifling Summer

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The sun is shining (at least it is where I am), spring has sprung, and the domestic cricket season is nearly upon us. With that in mind, here are the thoughts of guest writer Media Penguin. As a devotee of county cricket he has some interesting thoughts to share on the championship …

I have a confession to make; I like going to watch county cricket. With spring in the air and a new season looming I have already earmarked likely first and second eleven fixtures on my multi-coloured computer desktop calendar.

I am delighted to see Lancashire and Liverpool Cricket Club appear to have got over their recent spat and a fixture has been allocated to the city’s Aigburth ground even though it is a Royal London cup one-dayer. Despite the contraction of fixtures into cricketing centres and away from outgrounds, the Red Rose still flies the flag with games at Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool. Lancs survival from relegation last year means no bi-annual trek for the fixture with Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay though.

There is little to beat a packed outground on a balmy summer’s day; certainly not sitting alone with a rucksack of sarnies in one of our cavernous Test venues.

I dusted off Duncan Hamilton’s love letter to cricket the other day – A Last English Summer. This doomsday tome envisages 2009 being the last true summer before it all implodes in a T20 galactic supernova. In fact every season since then has seen commentators bemoan crash bang cricket, central contracts, mercenaries and kolpak insurgents.

Hamilton waxes lyrical about the Golden Age of Constantine, Hobbs and Bradman although I’m pretty sure he’s not old enough to have seen any of them. However he superbly catches the deep pull of nostalgia and I am sure sees himself as the literary successor to Cardus and Allott and has worn out his dvd of Death of a Gentleman.

Everyone has a view on the future of the game; from the crusties who are clinging to tradition like a starving trucker grasping a Yorkie, to the cash obsessed suits at the ECB who scrabble for cash like a beggar rooting around a dustbin.

However times do move on and there is little point thinking that we should be stuck in some sort of timewarp. I agree with him that the long form game is now just a mere trifle to be cut, sliced and crumbled in favour of the right Eton Mess of T20.

The question is; what to do about it? The CC has been allowed to stagnate with little support, marketing or direction. I asked Lancashire’s commercial director five years ago to implement a staggered payment regime for county games to attract the walk-in customer. Last year they finally implemented £15 all day, tenner after lunch and a fiver for the last session.

But does more need to be done?

I now refer to the case for the prosecution. Last August on a bright, searing day I was at Old Trafford to see the last days of the Roses encounter which dangled the carrot of a thrilling finale.

Lancs began the morning intent on setting the auld enemy a target to chase. The precocious Haseeb Hameed wrote himself into the record books with a glorious second century of the match. The 19 year old shook off his Wall of Bolton nickname to dab and carve his way to 100 not out.

The declaration left a target of 367 in 71 overs. Surely Yorkshire, hanging on to Middlesex’s coat-tails in the CC title race, would give it a go? Lees and Lyth kept the scoreboard ticking over during the afternoon. At 4 p.m. no wickets down and 219 required off 30. Time for tea. What happened during the break is pure speculation. Afterwards with 180 required off 20 the dig in began. Fifteen runs off five overs after tea.

I said to a couple of Tykes nearby that this unfathomable act of cowardice could well cost them their championship. It did.

I was amazed with so much on the line that the game was allowed to fizzle out. In other cases the last afternoon safe draw is often commonplace.

Tradition maybe but surely it is time to punish the bore draw. Either no points for those who perpetrate a stalemate or ban draws American-style.

Surely better marketing is needed too but the plan to virtually stop all CC in the summer holidays looks akin to sabotage.

Something has to change if county cricket is to remain relevant.

MediaPenguin

A freelance journalist based somewhere oop north.

17 Comments

  1. Play county championship cricket at (different) out-grounds for at least 50% of home games.

    Scrap bonus points – 4 for a win, 2 for a draw with 1st innings lead, 1 for a draw with 1st innings deficit or if both 1st innings are not complete. Nothing for a loss.

    Allow 2nd division counties the decision about whether it makes sense for them retain full professional status for 4 day cricket. Paying 22 players to play in front of a small handful of fans is not sustainable in the long run.

    Scrap the new T20 nonsense and expand the existing T20 cup – including granting 6 new counties the right to enter from currently underserved areas of the country.

    Spread both the CC games and the T20 throughout the season. Stop marking down pitches that offer assistance to spinners as “poor”.

  2. If the ECB ploughed the same money,time and energy into promoting the County Championship as they do for T20 and 50 over cricket then we might possibly achieve the Holy Grail of attracting younger blood to watch the County Championship. That, allied to the incentives that attract families and women to the shorter form of the game applied to Championship Cricket watching, then we might survive.

    Having said all this we need to adapt to both the demands of the spectator and we have to change. We cannot ignore it; it puts bums on seats and helps Counties survive financially. But PLEASE, let’s try to get it right

  3. The biggest problem in English cricket is the fixation of young players with T20. A simple change to the CC could help with this and give added interest by providing the opportunity to see the future of the game. Introduce a rule to require all sides to play a minimum of 3 under 23 players in each CC game (or 4 if they want one to be an overseas player). At minimum it will ensure more promising players are required to develop the discipline required in red ball cricket and (if we are lucky) unlearn some of the bad habits of T20 which condemn them when they play red ball.

  4. The thing is, you’ve got to be PROPERLY into cricket before a day off CC cricket would hold any interest for you whatsoever, it really doesn’t offer much to the casual fan.

    Even keen cricketers find CC games tedious. I’ve been a cricket nerd my entire life and have bared watched a day of the CC, and if I did a survey at my cricket club of ~80 people of various ages and asked who was interested in the CC, you could count the fans on the fingers of one hand.

    One guy last year won free tickets to any day of CC cricket he wanted to go to, he tried to give them away to the club, no-one wanted them, in the end they got thrown in the bin. There is just no interest.

    If even cricketers think the CC is uninteresting, how do you expect to attract non-cricketers?

    • James Morgan on

      I don’t think that’s universally true AB. I’ve always enjoyed a day at the cricket and so do most of my friends. It’s a good opportunity to chat to friends, have a picnic, enjoy a beer or two, and soak up some summer weather. I do pick and choose games, and like to go to fixtures where there are youngsters I want to see (or overseas players I find entertaining), but I don’t really care how big the crowd is. All I care about is watching some quality cricket, and I still think there is plenty of that in the championship – especially in division one.

      • I’m sure there are people who like the CC, just like there are people who like going to watch croquet or curling.

        We just need to accept that as things stand, there are not enough people interested in it to sustain a professional competition with 18 teams.

        The point of professional cricket is to attract and entertain as many people as possible, and as such, the CC is unfit for purpose.

      • I think county cricket needs to target certain demographics, obviously pensioners, but there are many self – employed people who don’t work full time, or people who work weekends but have time in the week. Get the message out there to these people (through marketing) that a day’s cricket is actually a good way to spend a summers day.
        Also maybe target people who work the old fashioned 6-2 shift, to come and see the last session (free entry)
        More D/N matches perhaps.

        The ECB really need to be more pro-active and get cricket out there. Free streaming like Cricket Australia do

  5. On the last day of the county season last year the gate at Lords at the end was probably pushing 10,000. Too many drawn games, more declaration bowling if that is what it comes to.

    • James Morgan on

      On the last day of the championship season the BBC county cricket page was the 2nd or 3rd most visited page on the entire site that day. I think that shows there’s still a lot of interest in county cricket. I think it needs to be marketed better.

    • Madaboutcricket on

      Th draw is what makes the game special and provides drama. People believe that win lose makes more entertaining games are dilusional. As soon as one side has a bad innings it’s game over.. just look at the sheer amount of boring one sided games there are in white ball cricket.

      Cc will never be popular as a spectator sport so get it online so people can watch it from work/home.

      As James said, people were flocking to see what happened online but won’t go to games. Accept that going to a game is a fact of life but don’t confuse thst with a lack of interest.

      Sure more go to 2020’s now but the majority aren’t there for the cricket, they are there to get drunk!

      If you think 2020 is growing check out Northants, Leicester, Derbyshire, glos, whilthsire, Somerset which are seeing declining participation in 2020.. not increases

  6. I personally know the cricket development officer for Leicestershire, she says recreational T20 is growing year on year there at impressive rates.

    So obviously, you’re lying. The question is, why? What could you possibly get out of coming onto this website and telling lies so obvious that anyone with any knowledge of cricket in the locations you mention would immediately be able to spot the lies. Its just pathetic.

    • It would have been better to do this as a reply to the previous post. As a stand alone post it seems like a pop at James, which I am sure was not intended.

      I have never been quite sure how to measure the progress of T20 participation. As an example in Surrey, the participation in the Flora Doris Trophy (a 14 8 ball over club competition run since 1946) declined so sharply that it was discontinued in 2014. So it seems there has been some cannibalisation of existing similar competition. Certainly there is more formal T20 at club level……but how much more ultra-limited over competition is not always obvious. The only obvious thing in Surrey is that the Flora Doris Trophy, in its heyday (1950-1990) had many more entrants than any current similar competition in Surrey.

  7. I may be wrong but I remember that at Canterbury you would be let in free if there was a few hours left. Maybe it was because I was a youngster!

    • It seems to be fallout from the faction fights in Indian cricket as the BCCI have pulled together 4 boards to oppose reforms at the ICC. It seems that the Indian mafia have paid off the Zimbabwe and Bangladesh boards to oppose financial reforms which would have seen their cricket (but not their personal accounts) benefit.

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