Apologies to all trifle fans. I’m in a tiramisu kind of mood today. Besides, there’s nothing trifling about the great game of cricket – particularly if you’re on of the teams chasing a county championship title or fighting relegation. Good luck to all the teams involved.
Talking of the final round of championship matches, can anyone explain why the test squads were announced before the domestic season finished? I know there’s a short turn around before the Bangladesh tour begins but does a week really make that much difference?
Perhaps I’m just pining for the past. In the good old days, a big performance in a domestic one-day cup competition could propel a player into the England reckoning. Robin Smith first came to prominence when he square-cut his way to a big score in a B&H final. The rest was history.
These days the system makes no sense. Naming the England squad immediately before a showcase final is asking for trouble: the selectors can end up looking rather silly. I bet Whitaker, Newell and Fraser felt slightly awkward when Ansari and Batty scored precisely zero runs between them and took just one measly wicket at Lord’s on Saturday.
What’s more, surely the selectors want to see players perform at the business end of the county championship. If two players are in the running for one particular spot, surely it makes sense to see who does the business for their county side at a critical juncture?
Just returning to the Royal London Cup Final briefly, it’s a shame it all ended in a damp squib. The pitch wasn’t ideal – it rarely is in the middle of September at Lord’s – but Surrey batted very poorly indeed. Warwickshire were always going to chase the runs. The result was a foregone conclusion as soon as Dernbach bowled a somewhat wild opening over.
It was hard not to feel happy for Warwickshire though. Ian Bell hasn’t had the summer he was hoping for – he’s been injured, inconsistent with the bat, and his team have struggled in red ball cricket – so at least he belatedly had something to smile about. I thought he captained his team really well.
It hasn’t all been good news for Warwickshire though. The club’s hopes of staging the first ever day-night test in England next summer appear to be over. There were concerns about the pink ball, which apparently doesn’t swing after ten overs, and plans to trial the format in this week’s championship game against Lancashire were scuppered. With both clubs technically fighting relegation, the stakes were too high to experiment.
The other big news of recent days is counties’ decision to give franchise T20 cricket a go – probably starting in 2020 after the current TV deal with Sky expires. This is quite shrewd because BT Sport seem to have a bottomless pit of money at the moment. I just hope that some matches will be available on free-to-air television. My initial understanding is that the counties were keen on this but it’s all gone strangely quiet.
It will be interesting to see if Sky can maintain their monopoly over international and domestic cricket in the coming years. As a rugby fan, the move from Sky to BT Sport seems to have done the Aviva Premiership some good. Although I was initially against this move, because I thought less people subscribed to BT Sport than Sky, I think I was probably wrong. The last time I looked at the figures rugby attendances were actually up so I’m assuming that BT sport has a growing subscriber base. Then again, I’ve read that BT’s Champions League viewing figures have been appalling, so the picture is far from clear.
What we do know, however, is this: BT have already secured the rights to show Australia games in Australia, so next winter’s Ashes will be on BT and not Sky. It will be interesting to see if they make a success of it. I have no idea who their anchor will be but I imagine we won’t be seeing much of Bumble, Nasser, Athers and Grumpy Bob.
As for the franchise T20 idea itself, there seems to be quite a lot of misinformation out there. Some see the news as a direct threat to counties’ existence and the death knell for the NatWest Blast. Personally I’m not sure this is the case. The situation is more nuanced than many imagine.
Firstly, the franchise thingy has been approved by a big majority of counties and, as far as I’m aware, turkeys don’t vote for christmas. The counties generally favour this new competition because they’ve all been guaranteed a share of the spoils without having to contribute much.
Secondly, the franchise competition will happen in a block in midsummer while the Blast will continue on Friday nights throughout the summer. This isn’t an either / or scenario. Attendances at domestic T20 matches have been pretty good, so there was no appetite to replace the existing competition.
Having said that, I do understand why a lot of people are concerned. There’s a danger of overkill and people only have so much disposable income to chuck at live cricket. Maybe there will be an aspect of cannibalisation after all?
I also have my doubts as to whether the new franchise system will actually take-off. Because most cricket fans already have strong affiliations to a particular county, I’m not sure whether hard-core fans will travel miles to see these new franchises in action. I think it will take some heavy marketing to get the thing off the ground – unless they’re hoping that casual fans and passers by will fill the stadiums instead.
The reality is that England isn’t like other cricketing countries. We have strong local allegiances and these franchises will be completely new entities. The Big Bash was different because they simply rebranding existing domestic teams. Meanwhile, although the IPL clearly consists of artificial teams, I’m not sure whether regional cricket in India attracts the same interest and inspires the same loyalties as the English counties.
As with all these things I guess only time will tell. Personally I’m trying to keep an open mind. I just wish the authorities would spend an equal amount of time creating a compelling and heavily marketing competition for test cricket. Is that really too much to ask?
I’d be interested to hear your views on the issues discussed above. And if you’re a disgruntled trifle fan, or have a soft spot for pastry pies with fruit fillings, I sincerely apologise. I just couldn’t bring myself to call this article The Tuesday Tart.