The Championship’s Super Weekend

Raw numbers paint the picture. The viewership of Yorkshire’s live stream hovered consistently around 3,500. As the afternoon ticked along, so too did the flow of viewers.  The steady click of electronic turnstiles turned into a stampede, as people raced to view the climax of Northamptonshire’s visit to Headingley.

As soon as Northants lost the ninth wicket, attendees arrived en masse.  The numbers whirring upwards like an odometer fraud in reverse. 3,981, 4,121, 4,333, 4,550, 4,670, 4,695, 4,792, 4,752, 4,779…and breathe.  Northants needed 14 runs; Yorkshire needed 1 wicket. And people cared.

Despite the ECB’s attempts to convince us otherwise, it’s clear that the County Championship still features prominently in the cricketing consciousness. Over the last couple of seasons, the introduction of live streaming at every county has provided a reference point in black and white for encouraging levels of interest in the domestic first-class game.

The final day’s play at Headingley is currently sitting at 35,693 views, bringing total eyes across the four days to 117,648.  So much for one man and his dog. 

This particular window in the cricketing calendar is gutted out for the billion-dollar behemoth of the IPL. Given the scarcity of other cricket during this period, some will look to the County Championship for an antidote to the bright lights and razzle dazzle.  Some will watch alongside the IPL, perhaps getting the best of both worlds.  They are both cricket after all.

Whether viewers tune in for all eight hours every day or just dip in for a few overs, it doesn’t particularly matter.  What matters is that they have been there.  There is at least curiosity and at most obsession. Ultimately,  people care. More people than we are often led to believe.

© David Morton

Regardless of whether it was by design or sheer luck, the decision to move the start date for matches to Thursday – thus generally finishing on a Saturday or Sunday – has worked a treat.   Sunday afternoon is prime time for sports watching.  As many available eyeballs is the optimal position. 

Similarly, the format of packing nine rounds of Championship action before the first Test of the summer is positive.  True, it may risk some weather issues, but the UK “summer” can leave you second-guessing regardless of the month. Maybe it will be The Hundred in July that welcomes the rain…..

Perhaps it is that opportunity for the Championship to breathe which has sparked a feeling of revitalisation this year. Nine consecutive rounds allow storylines to develop. The search for form of England incumbents like Rory Burns or Zac Crawley titillates, the push for an international call up from Adam Lyth, Haseeb Hameed or Ollie Robinson intrigues and the emergence of promising youngsters like Sam Evans, Tom Haines or Matt Critchley thrills.

All before you even contemplate those attempting the unique milestone of 1,000 runs by the end of May or the claustrophobic nature of the current league tables, which provide context for every match. Will Essex fail to qualify? Can Somerset afford another loss? Have Durham completed their long road back to the top? Can Gloucesetshire remain unbeaten? Will Worcestershire ever not draw a game?

The Championship has always provided captivating storylines. But in recent years the bitty and interrupted scheduling hasn’t allowed these to develop.  Any trace of momentum extinguished within a few weeks as the inevitable break for white-ball cricket was shoehorned in.

 It certainly feels like this year’s Championship builds towards the showpiece Test series against New Zealand and India. Good performances have the opportunity to be rewarded.  They have context and people care.

Right up until the big reveal, a win, loss or draw remained possible for both at Headingley.  In the end, Northants fell one run short. The smallest winning margin possible in four-day cricket.    The non-paying electronic punters left with a buzz to last them all week.

There was still time to teleport the 225 miles from Leeds to Bristol to witness an epic Glocuestshire chase.  As the required runs dropped below three figures the influx began.  Over 100 new viewers in the space of a few balls started the avalanche.  The figure would climb and climb as viewers looked for an accompaniment to their Sunday dinner. All were witness to 348 being knocked off in a thrillingly comfortable fashion.

No anti-climactic ending on this Sunday. The storylines built up and the Championship delivered.

Thankfully, the next instalment is only a few days away.

Sky has spent hundreds of millions of pounds (perhaps billions) building the Super Sunday ‘brand’ for Premier League football. But it rarely delivers. The ECB has their very own Super Sunday dropped from the heavens into their lap. Yet barely a penny or a thought has been spent. Establish teams, established loyal fanbases and millions of new fans all untapped.

But do they want it? They’d be foolish not to. If only there was a spare £35 million sitting in reserve.

David Windram

14 comments

  • Excellent piece. It was an excellent set of matches, with only Worcestershire and Essex not providing any interest due to the utter flatness of the pitch in Worcester (I hope the ECP punish Worcestershire for what is becoming a pattern – producing pitches like these is in my book a far greater offence than producing the spinning surfaces for which Somerset got punished). Even in the one-sided games there were performances to relish – Roach’s marvellous bowling for Surrey, Carson for Sussex (in a losing cause), and Darren Stevens’ five-for at the age of 45 for Kent (again in a losing cause). The cool head of debutant Goldsworthy at Taunton, as he and Steven Davies knocked of the winning runs against Middlesex was also impressive. At Bristol there was Cockbain’s ton, Lace’s near miss and a fine cameo from Higgins to put Gloucestershire ahead of the clock.

  • Good piece David. Just goes to prove that the ECB continue to get everything wrong. The improved coverage of all games has worked a treat. I’m looking forward to going to the Oval on May 20th for Surrey vs Middlesex.
    And yes some heavy rain to soak the wretched 100 would be most welcome. Sometimes August can be an iffy month weather wise!

  • Just to add that the IPL has at last been suspended due to more cases in the players. Even better news for the Championship viewing figures on Thursday.

  • This online coverage is becoming really good, with better quality cameras (and more of them) than a couple of years ago, when the video coverage was almost an accidental output of the fixed cameras that had been installed for monitoring purposes. I wish we could also have an option whether to have the commentary burbling away; nice as it is to have access to it, to hear just the natural sounds of cricket, without the TMS wallpaper, would be a sort of nirvana.

  • I might add that on the day England won the World Cup, Yorkshire were playing Somerset at Headingley in front of a slightly reduced Championship crowd. I didn’t count, but there were probably about 1,500 present, and they were watching the live cricket, not the television.

    I have been photographing County Championship cricket for years, now. I can prove that games are decently attended all round the country. There are some places where attendances are disappointing, Old Trafford amongst them, but Chelmsford and Taunton, for example, provide a lovely watching experience. Enough of a throng to create a buzz, none of the excesses of behaviour that mar Test Matches and (I believe) some County T20 games.

    If there was the will amongst the cynical suits of the ECB, they could market our Summer Game as the superb ‘product’ it is. Playing it in summer would be a good start, and taking it to the people, as at Scarborough in holiday time, or Hove, or Colwyn Bay, or Blackpool. If there was a will, there could be a way.

    • In more normal times I watch all Surrey away and home county championship games. Have done Scarborough twice in the last three years. Terrific with almost a 1950’s atmosphere. Colwyn Bay, Taunton and Hove are also great venues to visit. Don’t forget Durham, and if you get a chance Chesterfield. A few of us go and have a great 3/4 days, even if there is some rain! But it’s just not worth travelling for T20 (I don’t even go to the Oval only an hour away) and even less for the 100. I mean if you were a 100 supporter in Taunton you’d have to travel to Bristol for a 2 hour “game”! Franchise cricket is doomed to fail in this country.

  • What an excellent piece, well and truly shattering the “one man and his dog myth”. And you just have to love the closing line….

  • I spent a day and a half watching the streaming of Durham trouncing Warwickshire! As it happens I support both Counties but it was a joy to watch Durham return from its crushing by the ECB. Borthwick who had to be shed during the dark days has come back to the County and is now captain. There is a real local vibe now governing the game. Loyalty is very important in Durham and I’m sure there would be a welcome for more prodigal sons if they want to return. Of course having some of their stars unleashed would help Durham and at least one of the bowling pair, Mark Wood, was bowling for his County. When Durham will ever see Stokes is another matter. He lives in the County still I believe and also is very loyal to Durham given the chance. As a schoolboy taken on by the County and brought through the Academy he epitomises the Durham spirit which won them the Championship three times in five years. The glory days were brought to a shabby end by the Franchise obsessed ECB. I do hope it rains on their parade.

  • Totally agree about the championship being able to complete a significant number of rounds without intervention from its 1-day cousins. Gives the players chance to find some consistent form in a way no other format does. The weather, at least until this weekend has been unusually kind for April, if chilly, but as you say this could as easily happen in July or September, so it’s pretty much a lottery.
    Good to see so much interest in the county championship on line, but we need to see evidence of this encroaching past the turnstiles when punters return if the championship is to become more than a sideshow.

  • Good article, David. I have to say I’ve enjoyed the start to this County season as much as any I can remember. The fact that there have been no white ball matches has meant that players can adjust to a longer form of the game. Good, too, to see so many England players playing for their County – I suspect it’s a while since there were this many. In relation to viewing figures I wonder how many watch (as I do) the highlights of each game on the ECB web site every day. It’s a great resource. There is clearly a strong groundswell of support for this form of the game, which the ECB likes to downplay as it doesn’t fit their narrative.

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