If the ECB thinks the county championship is just for obsessives, nerds, and cricket tragics, then the UK seems to be full of these anorak-wearing weirdos.
A few days ago, TMS announcer Adam Mountford proudly announced that over one million people (and that’s unique visitors) followed their coverage of the championship last week.
And that comes after the county cricket page was the second most visited section of the entire BBC website during the championship finale last year. Just think about that for a minute. More people cared about Middlesex versus Yorkshire at Lord’s than politics, fashion or the weather. Wow.
However, once again it seems as though the county championship – or at least a championship with eighteen teams – is the least of the ECB’s priorities. T20 is where it’s at. And first class cricket is where it aint.
It’s a somewhat understandable view given that the ECB have often had to flog the championship’s sponsorship rights for a song, but they’d do well to remember that cricket fans in this country have a deep affection for the existing first class system.
Now that county cricket seems increasingly under threat, perhaps cricket fans will come out of the woodwork and support it? It’s easy to take something for granted when you assume it will be around forever. But once someone or something (or in this case some heartless administrators) threatens to take away something you love, it’s amazing how you cling to it like a drunk cradling a pint.
The latest example of the ECB’s apparent indifference to the championship – let’s facetiously call this one exhibit Z – is Andrew Strauss’s refusal to let Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow play for their counties in the next round of games.
Instead of letting England’s test stars raise the standard, they’ll be twiddling their thumbs instead. Nobody ever thinks about a player’s thumbs by the way. They’re people too you know. And they’re just as vulnerable to burnout.
This situation has caused a rumpus because Notts and Yorkshire are well aware that Ben Stokes and Co, who play all three formats, are currently in India boosting their bank accounts. It obviously seems counter-intuitive that Broad and Bairstow, who might not play for England again until the first test in July, need to rest whereas the likes of Stokes and Woakes, who will be playing in the Champions Trophy next month, can play as much as they want.
Or maybe the ECB just thinks that players getting T20 experience in foreign conditions is more important than a competition only a bunch of eccentric friendless stattos (like you and me) enjoy.
Strauss is in a bit of a bind to be honest. I can understand why he wants to keep the likes of Broad and Anderson fresh for later this year (when England play a ridiculous seven tests in ten weeks), but Broad apparently feels so out of rhythm that he’s currently doing extra bowling in the nets. Why not just let him play in the middle if he wants to?
I can understand why Notts are fuming. The bottom line is that a week’s rest in April isn’t going to determine how fresh a fast bowler feels after playing back-to-back tests several months later. What’s more, nothing does more to undermine player welfare than the absurd workload the ECB itself creates for England players.
Anyway I’ll get off my soapbox for a minute – take a deep breath, James – and refocus on the latest on-field action. In fact, now that the championship is underway once more, it’s time for us obsessive fossils to put our heads together and indulge in a spot of educated guesswork.
So this is the challenge: who do you think will score the most runs in division one of the championship this year? We’ll do the most wickets another time.
Here are the five most likely contenders in my humble opinion …
Gary Ballance – He surely won’t play for England this summer, and he’s already off to a brilliant start with a hundred in Yorkshire’s defeat to Hants. As a new county captain with a point to prove, I can see Ballance batting forever this summer. And good on ‘im if he does. Odds 16-1
Jonathan Trott – R.o.c.k. S.o.l.i.d. What more can I say about our Trotty? He’s still a very fine player at county level, and as he’s a bit of an obsessive compulsive at the crease, it’s impossible for us obsessive cricket nerds not to love him. Trott has an enormous appetite for runs and he’s already started the season well. Odds 18-1.
Mark Stoneman – After batting on greentops up north for most of his career, MS Stoney probably can’t believe his luck at the moment. He must walk to the Oval wicket before play every day, smile broadly, thank his lucky stars, and dream of finally winning an England call-up. Odds 10-1.
Steve Davies – Ok I admit this one is a tad unlikely, but as a Worcestershire fan I’d love Davies to finally fulfil his prodigious talent. There isn’t a better player through the off-side in the country, and the wicket at Taunton will obviously suit his flamboyant game. Moving to Somerset should breathe new life into his career, and at just 30 years of age, he could still play for England again one day. Odds 16-1.
Rilee Rossouw – Support Durham? Don’t like Kolpak players? Then you’ll love this suggestion. Rossouw will surely score buckets of runs for Hants this year. He’s a good player with a first class average of nearly 45, and 18 hundreds under his belt. He’s also at that age (27) when batsmen can suddenly mature. Whatever one thinks of kolpak players, his signing was a coup for Hants. Odds 20-1.
With England’s best players unlikely to play much championship cricket this year, and the likes of Onions, Rushworth, Mark Wood, and Jake Ball plying their trade in division two, I can see there being a run glut in div one. If you disagree, and fancy a punt yourself, bestbettingwebsites.com has good offers and bonuses.
Here’s why I ignored the other contenders by the way …
Nick Gubbins – everyone will be wise to him after his 2016 heriocs. I wouldn’t be surprised if he suffers a sophomore slump. Odds 7-1
Ian Bell – if Belly was going to rediscover his magic touch, I think it would have happened last year. I think he’ll score useful runs but not enough to top the ladder. 14-1
Alex Lees – I rate Lees highly but I’ve been waiting for him to fulfil his full potential for too long now. I’m not holding my breath anymore. 16-1
Kumar Sangakkara – He’ll undoubtedly show his genius at times but can he really be consistently brilliant at the age of 39? He might be one of the best batsmen of all time but he’s no Mark Ramprakash. Ahem. 16-1
Scott Borthwick – I’m still not convinced he’s a top class batsman. He’s definitely a good cricketer, don’t get me wrong, but maybe last year’s early season purple patch was a one-off? 18-1.
My final prediction for the year is that James Hildreth will not play for England. Ever. No matter how many runs he scores. But we all knew that already, right?
Written in collaboration (in part) with www.bestbettingwebsites.org