First up, some house notes.
TLG and I have full-time jobs and other things we need to do over and above this blog. This means that we put a great deal of trust in you to do the right thing in the comments because we can’t monitor 24/7. We don’t set rules or parameters, we aren’t a newspaper or a paid-for or getting paid to do blog. We’re a couple of blokes with something to say. If we spot something that we think goes beyond what we think is acceptable in the comments, then we moderate (often to decide whether to allow or not). That we’ve had to do so on such an infrequent basis is testament to you, but we also know feelings run high.
If you have a complaint on anything you’ve read that you think is beyond acceptable, and it remains, please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org or if you follow me on Twitter, tweet me (@dmitriold ) .
With that out of the way, I thought I’d usher in the start of the county cricket season with a little piece on our domestic game.
The subject of county cricket is really one of those that can never be solved. I had a go at this Schleswig Holsteinshire and if anything, in the light of the comments from Russell Degnan, I’ve probably hardened in that view. I don’t think the will exists, or the solution apparent, that will give us the perfect domestic structure on which to go forward. There are many out there, many county members, who do not give a flying one about international cricket. They don’t all reside in Yorkshire either. It struck me in my time as a member at Surrey how little the membership cared about their players reaching international honours. “county cricket does not exist to fill the England team” was a very common remark.
County cricket is increasingly becoming like exclusive art galleries. It may be of substantial aesthetic value, of increasing nostalgic value as it ages, and available only if you are really committed to it, and that may be the problem. No-one is advocating demolishing old institutions and starting again, but we live in an age where a repackage here, a new broom there, can create something from nothing. After all, our top division was always the envy of Europe (with the possible exception of Italy) in the 80s and early 90s, but repackaging as the Premier League, giving clubs a few more quid, and lo and behold, the whole projection has changed. Despite the product sagging a little in the past few years, it’s still iconic enough to get the largest TV deal in UK sporting history by a distance. All the time this method, of buffering and repackaging, as Mark calls it “making it an event” tempts other sports. Rugby Union and Rugby League went through a revolution, with Heineken Cups and league play introduced to Union, and SuperLeague in Rugby League. The PGA Tour in golf has inhaled every other tour, so that there is now one source of the highest quality golf. Tennis had been a pioneer in this, with the ATP and WTA Tours. Of course, the inspiration for many sports now is the NFL. The Champions League is desperate to bill its annual football final as the Superbowl of football. The problem with that is that in every year ending in an even number, there’s arguably a much bigger game being played less than six weeks later!
So English domestic cricket stands still. And is there anything inherently wrong in that? It depends on how you “consume” it, maybe?
Some out there on this blog do not bow down and worship to the current county cricket structure. For the purposes of this I’m leaving out the T20 debate for now as that’s separate. From my standpoint there’s not a lot of emotional investment in it. I can compare my feelings for sports teams across the sports – my club loyalties are Millwall, Boston Red Sox, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bulls, Wigan Warriors, and, of course, whichever T20 team KP plays for!!!! Surrey are on a par with my rugby league favourites. I like it when they win, don’t get too bothered when they don’t.
The great Surrey team of the 1999-2004 era, roughly, coincided with the time I was a member. I got to see some great cricket, with the common thread for much of my enjoyment being Ally Brown, Adam Hollioake, Saqlain Mushtaq, Martin Bicknell and for the second half, the imperious Mark Ramprakash. It was a golden time to watch them and I thoroughly enjoyed my days out. I was actually committing myself to watch them even more in 2005, my penultimate year as a member, but that came to an abrupt halt when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I’d seen a few days of the initial games, got down to T-Wells as well, but things were to take a bad turn.
The other thing that kept the interest in the County Championship was our annual Fantasy Cricket competition, based on the scoring system that was developed by Fantasy Football. There it was – one point for ever twenty runs, five bonus points for a hundred, minus one for any non-bowler for a score under 10, -2 for anyone at all who was dismissed for 0, one point for a catch, two for a stumping, two points for a wicket, five point bonus for five wickets, minus one for ever 20 runs conceded. Got all that? Teletext and the internet were on overload in the glory days. Legendary pick-ups like Mike Hussey (when no-one knew who he was) got our pub discussions going – Joe Scuderi was legendary for other reasons. Now I doubt I could get four people interested in this – in those days we had leagues of nine or ten! It did mean that team news was gobbled up, any snippets we could get on the wires eagerly awaited, and scorecards followed assiduously. Once the league died in 2008 (I ran it after a succession of others – we had a few people leave work, so got tougher to arrange) county cricket wasn’t an obsession. (I recall another notable thing from the latter days of that competition was I had to get squads and try to classify the players. One Kevin Pietersen in his first season was classed as a bowler in my annual player list. Imagine the glee of my colleague when he had immunity for scores under 10 for a prime batsman, Fantasy cricket was a batsman’s game, and KP racked up double hundreds while sitting at 11 in his batting order! Bastard).
Now how do I see County Championship cricket? A decent day out with mates might be the best answer. Last year I went to Surrey v Derbyshire on a rain-affected day, which was memorable for meeting Benny, and then had a terrific day at Lord’s for Day 3 of the Middlesex v Yorkshire game where I saw Toby Roland-Jones make his maiden hundred, and got the chance to meet Mr Declaration Game and Mr Tim Wigmore. These days out, especially if we get lucky with the weather, are relaxing, get me away from work, and generally end in great days out with my good mates. The cricket, frequently, matters only when I’m behind the camera. That’s a bit harsh, actually, because I remember snapping away at Surrey v Middlesex through the zoom on the lens, and watching the mastery of Hashim Amla on a raging turner a few years back. That sort of thing isn’t too common, though.
Too often, county cricket is used by some as some sort of badge of honour, a kind of haughtiness ensues when people discuss it. “Oh, don’t spoil our discussion on the merits of [insert jobbing county pro] with your international cricket stuff. I’m just not interested.” Fine, if that’s your boat, set up a county cricket discussion board of your own. I was warned off this early in my enhanced blogging career (2014) by nonoxcol, when I made the mistake of trying to bring some ECB issue into a county discussion. In my opinion this is part of the problem with the county structures and the long-form of the game. There’s too much inherent snobbery in it. I used to say that when the Beautiful South wrote a song, I thought they’d finish it, and congratulate themselves on how clever they were. That’s the impression I get of a number of county cricket fans. By no means all – I’ve had some great conversations with total strangers at county matches – but if you go to games, and read about them, you get the picture.
It’s easy to like the county championship. It’s relatively cheap – £15-£20 to watch decent quality stuff and the ability not to be held hostage by the catering arrangements at international and T20 games is really pretty OK. I like the peaceful atmosphere at The Oval and Lord’s on a working day, amidst the hubbub of the massive metropolis. It’s soothing and makes you feel light years away from your office, when it is really only a short bus ride away. Then there’s going to Guilldford, or T-Wells, or Chelmsford, or Arundel as we have over the past few years (not forgetting Whitgift and Southgate) and being a little more up close and personal – seeing KP at Whitgift, Ricky Ponting at Arundel and Shane Warne at Southgate is just something else – which is a great day out. I’m looking to get down to Hove for the first time in 39 years this summer, for example. But this is about my personal enjoyment, not really an emotional investment in a competition or two.
That’s not sustainable as a business model. It never will be, so why try? It might just be time to accept that the County Championship is like it is, because that is what it is. An anachronism, never likely to be self-funding, always likely to be a compromise, and more likely to become skewed to the haves rather than the have nots. I just request that those who love it, cherish it and breathe it don’t act as if they are some higher power, someone sent from the Gods of Cricket to save the international fans from themselves, while also hoping and praying that those newly-retired or ensconced in press boxes don’t bite the hand that fed them and disparage it at every turn.
But what do you think? I notice when I write about the domestic game in the UK there’s a rather lukewarm response. I know this blog has an international audience, but the majority of hits and comments are from the UK. Have a say. Speak up. Say what you think.
Predictions? Can’t see past Yorkshire, Warwickshire might run them close, not sure Middlesex can repeat what they did last year, can’t see my mob pulling up any trees. I start off with good intentions to go to watch it, but only go on very few occasions.
We have a trial type of post coming up related to this. Stay tuned.
Re: 1sr para – fine…but…
I didn’t respond to the problem about the sub-normal comment.
However, FWIW I don’t see how its offensive unless you choose to view it that way. It’s someone’s personal view – if you disagree, argue the point – don’t play a card.
i.e. we all know average IQ is 100 – most hit 100, plenty are just above/just below and then there are the outliers (each way).
ps – any reason I no longer receive emails to say there’s a new post?
I took a look at it, and thought it not appropriate. The poster and those offended can have a discussion if they want. Let’s put it this way, we’re not the Guardian.
On the second point, I really don’t know. I’m sorry. All I can suggest is you re-follow the blog!
Fair do’s – and at the risk of sounding parochial – Kent play most their games in Canterbury.
T-Wells, whilst a beautiful ground, is for the “Lords” Kent equivalents.
(I could say more but shouldn’t and won’t, ach, I will…bloody red trouser brigade).
Been there twice, j, and it was a really nice day out. Had a cracking book stall, I could park for free down the road, and got some great day’s play including Key and Van Jaarsveld smacking us to all parts.
I’ve never been to Canterbury. It is on my list. Definitely.
I also no longer receive emails to say there is a new post. I’m sure I miss the odd one because of it. Tried to find a solution in WordPress but no luck. Can anybody help?
Haha! Those a just the basic benefits you get from living outside of London!
Indeed they are. Actually, I might have been there three times.
Incidentally. @lordcanislupus is having an interesting Twitter exchange with The Cricket Paper.
Reminder that Cook’s average against SA was his lowest in any Test series of three or more matches.
Reminder that absolutely no-one in the MSM mentioned it.
I go, occasionally, to my local club, Lindal Moor…Moor being the operative word here in Cumbria! However, it”s a nice day out, decent cricket, and thoroughly enjoyable!
Now then, thoroughly enjoyable seems to me to be the very antithesis of what our glorious administrators want to take away from the game, and yes, a way of life?
Pleasure for the masses is something that, nowadays, has to be “packaged” and paid for and thoroughly corrupted.
We had something nice, something decent, and now? Well, heaven knows?
I’m not one for looking back, but, bloody hell, something needs to be preserved FFS???
How hard can it be??
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Agreed. I reckon that county cricket has probably been under a cloud (in terms of finance, or doubts about its sustainability) for most of its existence. Now, though, the ground is shifting under its feet. T20 and a general feeling of ‘let’s do something, because we can’ has changed expectations. Now CC needs to be modern, streamlined and profitable.
On this front, I have a team – Northants, the closest to my Fenland roots – and yet don’t really dread the prospect of its demise should the streamlining take place. A modern, profitable CC probably wouldn’t include Northants. For me, this would be a shame but no more, as I’d just start supporting Sussex instead (my uni town). However, probably nothing major will change, partly through inertia and partly through a lack of an agreed vision.
I support cricket overall, and it’s great to have – as LCL says – a less commodified, less expensive day out, with beers in the bag.
Meanwhile, I think Surrey looks good for as high as third, while Notts gave call ups, and England ignore Bell long enough for Warks to challenge You-know-who. Enjoy it LCL, because Roy, Foakes and Curran (s) won’t be there long.
I’ve said before that I think there’s a bunch of little things that CC could do for fans, esp. away fans.
I won’t go into that again in this comment.
Yorkshire are looking good, but the Championship may well hinge on England giving up on Rashid for Tests – which I am in two minds about.
I don’t think we’ll play Rashid here, do you?
Fair point, it’s not a tour, so the call up and not get picked should only mean he misses the odd day…
Yorkshire are well placed because they either have a whole stack of nearly men (Lyth,, Rashid, Brooks, Plunkett) and a couple such as Sidebottom and Bresnan whose England days are long passed but are still more than smart enough for the county championship. I guess that’s a good place to be although they will lose Bairstow for a longer part of the summer than they did last year (and the year before). I guess Master Root will be there for a game or two before also decamping to England.
I watch a fair bit of Surrey too, and will pop over to have a look at some of the young guns again. I’ve heard that the younger Curran had a bit of a tough winter but it is really early days. There was a hint (and no more than that) of a young Wasim Akram in his bowling action.
I was starting to feel a touch of enthusiasm for the new season – perhaps even contemplating dusting off my old ambition to have visited every county HQ (six to go) – but one visit to the CC thread (the Ali Martin preview) put that back in its box. Top bantz from wctt about Slurry and lunchpaks ho ho ho……
I’m never going to make it to all the ‘out grounds’ but I might add Colwyn Bay to the list of ones I have visited (many no longer with us): Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Basingstoke, Hastings (saw the last ever day’s play), Eastbourne, Horsham, Tunbridge Wells, Ilford, Colchester, Finedon, Cheltenham, Bath, Gloucester, Guildford, Whitgift.
From a brief remark on ‘Switch Hit’ it sounded like some early season CC may be on TV (not entirely clear but they seemed to hint at Notts v Yorks which, if so, starts May 1st).
As a former Horsham resident, I’m gutted that the festival has gone this year. Somerset getting rolled for 60 and the match being over in 2 days a season or two back didn’t help.
As it happens I may be in the UK for some of the summer and am very much looking forward to seeing some county cricket. Hove and Arundel in the summer sun – glorious.
I’ve been to Arundel several times but never for a CC match. My first ever live cricket was:
Not a bad collection of players for a debut! Pity the pitch and the weather were dire…..
I used to watch Surrey semi-regularly way back when I was living in London.
I had a job that I hated and found myself thinking one day “where can I hide that my boss would never think to find me?” Given he was an alcoholic who used to arrive at work sometime after 11 my first thought was “his office”. My second, only slightly less flippant thought was “watching county cricket”.
2 days later I finished my work and didn’t want to head back to the office. I turned my phone off and went to the Oval to watch the a Championship match peter out to a draw. It was better than trying to fix whatever clusterfuffle had been wrought in my absence that afternoon.
Although I can’t get down to watch matches so much anymore, I still listen to the commentary on the BBC website and even go to my local club to watch them play when I can. GIven Bell’s captaining Warwickshire this year I’m definitely going to carve some time out my precious “video games and studying” schedule to watch at Edgbaston.
I don’t really know what to say about county cricket. I don’t watch much of it, and I am a little bit of a fence sitter on the issue. I tend to see both sides. On the one hand I agree about the relaxed atmosphere of county cricket. It’s very peaceful and you don’t feel like a ATM cash machine to be emptied for extortionate food and drink prices and rules. And if you watch outside of the major test venues there are some beautiful places to watch cricket.
On the other hand I find county members scorn at international cricket a bit hard to take. Like it or not their pastime is subsidized by the revenues from international cricket. Many of the smaller counties would go to the wall without ECB hand outs. As much as the members resent it their nurturing of young talent for future international cricket is very important to the health and finance of the game. In addition they need their ODI and 20/20 revenue. Which is why it is so difficult to set up a new franchise model. For years we kept playing 40 over Sunday cricket for no other reason than that is what the county members demanded. They could fit it into an afternoon, and early evening, and be back in time to watch antiques roadshow. Regardless of the fact no 40 over cricket was played internationally. We have played every type of ODI cricket through many years mainly for members……60 over, 55 over, 40 over, 20 over but little 50 over.
One thing counties don’t seem to do (and I guess it’s down to lack of finace) they don’t seem to advertise their games much. I remember a BBC tennis commentator saying about 25 years ago that Surrey were about to play Midx in a big county game. A London derby, and yet if you had walked around London you would never have known it was taking place. There were no flyers, or ads or anything. With a lot of cricket played in the school holidays kids and the retired have to be the main target audience to sell to. They need to think about selling the tickets dirt cheap to the kids. Maybe it’s just to late with so little cricket being played in schools.
It doesn’t matter how cheap the kids tickets are, every county could give tickets away free, if the kids have zero interest in being there then its a waste of time because they’ll be bored as fuck and leave after an hour never to return.
I’ve been obsessed with cricket my entire life, have played for multiple cricket teams, and probably know well over 500 enthusiastic cricketers and cricket spectators.
and yet I have STILL never met anyone who had ever watched a single minute of CC cricket, either live or on tv (if such a thing exists) nor who ever intends to watch it.
Its just not part of mainstream cricket in this country, and hasn’t been for probably 40 years.
I saw the MCC v Yorks here in Abu Dhabi. LCL, I would advise you to take in a Surrey game for Foakes alone. That kid can bat. And more importantly, he can keep, too. But that is what the CC is about, it’s a proving ground for Test and international level. It always has been. The members have got a stick up their arses because, rightly, there is a bit too much international cricket and it does raid their starting XIs. I think it is perfectly reasonable that you got more value for money 20 years ago than what you do now. But a poster above is right in his observation that international cricket is basically CC’s life support machine.
On a personal level, I’ve always followed the CC via the media, but seldom watch it live. It’s always a tricky thing for finding the time when I was back in the UK. I do think it’s bloated, I do think it needs serious reform. But that goes for international cricket as well.
All said, it will always be there. There is too much will for it go away. The county system would survive on no monetary value at all, because if you took away the cash, it would continue as a niche amateur sport and would still be followed by the very same people. It is what it is.