Love the County Championship? Then You’re One in a Million

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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?

James Morgan

Written in collaboration (in part) with www.bestbettingwebsites.org

18 comments

  • I have to admit I was flabbergasted when I saw that number.
    Do you know what it’s made up of (hits to website, listeners to the comms I guess)
    I think a great weekends weather coupled with some decent coverage helped, the start of the championship was covered with a double page spread in the I.
    Long my it continue..

    On to the resting of players, I am completely supportive of the ECB’s decision to rest Broad this weekend. He is our most important bowler now and needs to be managed correctly. We will hopefully get 14 tests in 9 months out of him soon and his workload needs to be carefully , I don’t think playing back to back championship matches helps him at all.
    They should treat everyone on a in individual basis, for that reason I find the resting of Bairstow mad, he needs time in the middle.

    Are the lads playing in the IPL or just travelling around India (I barely follow it I’m afraid)

    • It was one million unique visitors, which means one million separate people. ‘Hits’ or ‘page views’ would be quadruple (or maybe even tenfold) that number if my experience on this site is anything to go by. It’s really encouraging news. I’m guessing that the climax to the championship last year attracted a few million.

    • Morgan was left out by his team but I think all the other English players have been playing.

      They haven’t been that successful from what I’ve seen so far. Stokes had one good game and Mills’ figures have been okay but that’s about it. The outstanding players have been mostly India or Australian (with ABDV and Rashid Khan the main exceptions).

  • I am one of those one in a million, and am following the new season online with the rest of you – hoping beyond hope that Durham bounce back at the first attempt, and that Stoneman and Borthwick find the Oval track much more tricky than Riverside.

    However, surely a truer state of the health of the CC is the number of people who are actually watching it. That’s not just the counties or the ECB speaking – any business would measure its health by the number of customers and what they’re bringing in. Having a million online followers sounds great, but to keep the CC viable more of them need to become actual paying pundits going to watch a game. I wholly agree the counties and ECB don’t do enough in this regard!

    • From what I saw onine and on SSN there were some decent crowds on opening weekend. But it was exceptionally warm and people were probably looking for something to do outside.

      Can’t imagine there will be too many takers this weekend.

      I had a look at a few ticket prices last night, for Derbyshire at the weekend it’s £12 adult, £4 kids. Which on the face isn’t too bad. But would you pay £32 for a family of four to sit out all day in the cold?
      £20 at Surrey (£15 advance)

      • True. Not a lot you can do about the weather. Same problem if you’re going to watch a county or a city franchise.

  • Surrey announced a crowd of over 6000 for the 4 days of last weeks cc match which is incredible. I was there for 2 of them. The ECB must remember that people follow their county on social media even if they are never able to attend a game. You cannot measure interest in the cc with bums on seats as over the last few years most games are played during the working week and with the exception of the retired amongst us people simply cannot afford to take the time of work. Without the cc we would have no test cricket, is that what the ECB ultimately want? Time for us county fans to rise……….

    • Let’s not kid ourselves here, yes these are brilliant numbers and i agree you have to look further than bums on seats. But every governing body has to look to the future.
      All is not rosy and changes are inevitable, on the field just look at Glamorgans woeful efforts, they are a joke. And off the field finances are still a worry, Durham and Yorkshire to use two examples.
      Dangerous to think that a unseasonably warm weekend in April suggests everything is blooming

  • James

    On your top tips for run getters in div 1 this year. How about Rory Burns? Barring injury he will play every game as opposed to Sangakkara who will miss games during the CPL. Stoney looked good last week he is a very strong contender.

  • As I’ve said elsewhere, I think people are mistaken when they say that people find T20 cricket more exciting or interesting than 1st class cricket.

    T20 is more accessible and popular as a LIVE event because its more convenient as the games are shorter, but its not actually any more exciting, even to 12 year olds.

    • I’m not sure how you come to the conclusion that T20 is not any more exciting to a 12 year old than CC? Have you asked any?

      I’m willing to bet that music, big hitting shots, fireworks etc would make it far more appealing to a 12 year old but again that’s only my opinion and I’m 3 decades older than that.

      All of us can only offer opinions from our own perspective (obvious I know) but personally, whilst I tend to watch England Tests on tv and try to do 1 day a year at a home test, I find it hard to get engaged with the CC as it’s not accessible- either to get to live (due to work commitments – and even then where’s the ‘atmosphere’ in a stadium with 2% attendance) or TV viewing wise.

      • have I asked any? I coach 12 year olds, so I talk to them about it all the time.

        I find this incredibly patronising. The 12 year olds I coach are perfectly able to appreciate the exact same things from a game of cricket that I was when I was 12 years old, and still appreciate today. I didn’t care about music, cheerleading and fireworks, and neither do they. Its just lazy stereotyping propagated by people who haven’t actually spoken to a 12 year old in about 30 years.

        No other sport in the world thinks they have to dumb down to attract the interest of children. Football doesn’t play 5 aside with a huge colourful beach ball with cheerleaders, fireworks and blasts of hip hop every 30 seconds. They have faith in their product to speak for itself, and rightly so. Test cricket attracted young fans for hundreds of years, why would anything be any different today? If administrators don’t have faith in cricket, they should fuck of and administrate a game they do like.

  • Love the championship even more than test cricket but even as a kid in the seventies most Championship games were empty in the week…..and only the Roses match was on tv. The Championship is where players learn to play. ….it was never better than when it went first to four day games then to two divisions.In my fifties now I ll take what they give me and still treat it as special.

  • How about:
    Tom Westley – solid, blossoming opener;
    Dane Vilas – Lancs need one good batsman left if Has and Livi are going to be borrowed;
    Nick Compton – no? Just me then;
    Dan Lawrence – the romantic’s choice;
    Tresco – the even more romantic’s choice.

  • Its utterly scandalous that a few chumps can influence the outcome of county games via who is available policy. Why isn’t this being challenged? There surely has to be a policy – not something reliant on the whims of Strauss.

  • Strauss, Giles Clarke, Colin Graves, Tom Harrison and Bransgrove are destroying English cricket. It is that simple.

  • Anyone seen young Coad of Yorkshire bowling ?
    Do his remarkable figures for the start of the season flatter, or might Yorkshire be about to lose another player to England ?
    (If nothing else, he’s lengthened Bell’s odds in the above list of highest batting total contenders…)

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