So then my pedigree chums. It’s time to digest the 2020 county fixtures which the ECB announced with a whisper yesterday. As we predicted it’s a complete dog’s breakfast. In fact, it’s a particularly unappetising dog’s breakfast with bone marrow and entrails overflowing Fido’s bowl and slopping all over the floor.
Let’s make no bones about it. This is an appalling schedule. County cricket fans will be restricted to a diet of Vitality Blast and diminished Royal London Cup games (played between sides missing up to two thirds of their best players) throughout the ‘summer’ – by which I mean all of June, all of July, and the vast majority of August.
If you were hoping to see plenty of quality first class cricket during the 12 best weeks of weather then you’ll be sorely disappointed – albeit not in the least bit surprised.
Although clubs will play up to three championship fixtures too during what might reasonably be defined as ‘the English summer’ – here are the 2020 county fixtures for my team Worcs – these will be interspersed randomly between T20 games; therefore the players will be in neither the right form nor headspace to perform at their best.
As Sam Billings said a couple of month’s ago, it’s simply impossible for professional cricketers to play T20 games every other day for weeks, suddenly play an isolated red ball game, and then return to T20 again. He described the strategy as ‘completely brainless’. And it’s hard to disagree.
So how does the summer shape up on a month by month basis? You can see a more detailed breakdown on the ECB website but I’ve put together a rough summary of the 2020 county fixtures below. Some of the games overlap (i.e. start at the end of one month and overlap into another) but this is basically what we’re looking at:
April – 3 championship games
May – 4 championship games
June – Vitality Blast
July – The Hundred (plus diminished RLODC)
August – The Hundred (plus diminished RLODC and one championship fixture at the very end of the month)
September – 4 championship fixtures
As everyone can see, first class cricket has been totally sold down the river. Although it’s nice that some championship games will be played over weekends, the ECB has reserved the longest days, the warmest weather, and therefore the best pitches, for white ball cricket.
This in itself is not entirely new. But the appearance of Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit, which has parked its copious derriere right in the middle of July and August, has made things so much worse. Fido’s bowl was already overflowing … and then the ECB added a toxic log into the mix.
Even if we include the 3 championship fixtures dotted randomly amongst the Blast games, there will be no first class cricket played in our country between July 9th and August 23rd (the last of the random red ball games starts on July 5th). So no red Dukes ball will make an appearance at a professional county game at any venue for a period of 45 days, or six and a half weeks, when the UK weather suits red ball cricket best.
Basically this is terrible news for everyone who cares about the England test team. Ashley Giles says he wants to refocus on first class cricket now that the World Cup has been won – but how? The only way to do this would be to abandon the Hundred or play it in April / May instead. And that’s about as likely to happen as Harrison and Graves volunteering to take a big pay cut.
I should mention that the 2020 county fixtures also pretty bad in some ways for fans of white ball cricket too. Why? Because neither the Vitality Blast nor the RLODC schedule makes any sense either. In fact, it will be quite difficult for these tournaments to develop a narrative or momentum of their own.
Take the Blast for example. There will be 14 groups games between the 28th May and 12th July. Fair enough one might think. But then the quarter-finals don’t occur until 18th August! And then finals days is scheduled to take place more than 2 weeks later on 5th September.
The RLODC will also struggle to capture the imagination. The groups games come thick and fast in July-August, as do the quarter finals and semi finals, but the final takes place on 19th September, more than a month after the finalists will be known. This is utterly ridiculous.
However, you’ll be pleased to know that there is one competition where the schedule makes sense – where the group games take place systematically and build towards a showcase final played at a sensible time.
And what’s that competition? You guessed it. It’s The Hundred! So the one form of the game that’s the ECB’s priority is the one form of the game that the England team doesn’t actually play.
You really couldn’t make this stuff up. Apparently everything can go hang other than the ECB’s needless vanity project. It’s quite disgraceful.
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