Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Up and down the country, young people are picking up a bat or a ball for the first time.  It might be in the back garden, it might be in the local park, but at any given moment someone who will go on to be a cricketer is gaining their first experience of the game.  For most, it will go no further, a casual game with the family or friends, and a memory that will occasionally resurface through life.  For some, a few, it will instil a deeper affection for and love of the game itself.  Those people will seek out a club, will learn how to improve and will play on a regular basis for years to come, and perhaps even for a lifetime.

At some point will come a time for reflection, a wondering of how they got to that point and about those who played a part in it.  Family is often first and foremost, and perhaps it goes without saying that it was my father who first put a bat in my hand.  But that is frequently just the start of the story, there are many others who play an instrumental role in what follows.

A few years ago I received a text from my mother to let me know that one of those who introduced me to the sport had died.  He was an old man by that point, the circle of life I guess, but nevertheless it came as something of a jolt to the system to hear the news.  In our minds people stay the same, and particularly so as we move away from our childhood homes and lose contact with those who were present in those formative years.

Neil Duncombe was someone who was in the team when I first started.  The excitement of being in the Sunday 2nd XI for the first time aged about twelve or thirteen is a vivid and evocative memory, far more so than playing for my school.  Of course at that point playing involved batting somewhere in the lower order, making up the numbers and doing the running around for the older players (wondering why they wouldn’t make an effort in the field, only to discover 30 years later that they were making an effort), and realising that the boundary was a hell of a long way from the wicket keeper.  The contribution in terms of runs was minimal – to the point I can recall reaching double figures for the first time and considering it a substantial achievement.  Neil was already about sixty by then, his career was coming to a close and he spent the day stood at first slip imparting wisdom and the humour that is so particularly a part of the game.  Yet he was one of the gods of the team to my young mind, a proper player to whom I looked up who I would spend the tea break sat next to just so I could listen to him, and who showed me how the game should be played.  He had been a good cricketer too, and a lesson gleaned from that was that if a 60 year old is playing against you, then don’t see them as they are now, imagine how good they must have been in their youth to still be on the field at that age.

Nor was he remotely alone in imparting wisdom, the captain was a man called Mike Connell, not the greatest cricketer – although at the time I thought he was of course – but the one who worked endlessly to ensure eleven players turned out every week, who organised everything, who walked the tightrope of friendly cricket game management in terms of trying to keep everyone involved and happy.   He was also the one who after a couple of years asked if I’d ever thought about keeping wicket.  Of course it hadn’t occurred to me, but given it was abundantly obvious I was one of the worst bowlers anyone had ever seen (capable of reasonable pace but entirely unable to direct it even vaguely in the right direction) he rather pithily pointed out that being behind the stumps might actually lead to me offering at least some kind of contribution to the team in the field.  He took me beyond the boundary, lobbed the frankly rubbish and oversized club gloves to me and started throwing cricket balls.  That I remember clearly, along with the “OK, you’ll do” observation having watched me.

To that point I’d had no desire to do the role at all, batting was all I cared about and by that time I was developing and scoring runs.  Mike was also the one who to my shock told me one day I was opening the batting.  I scored 19 – hardly an innings to pull up any trees, but I batted for a fair while and came off to lots of smiling team mates telling me that this was my metier and that I was a born opener.   My wicketkeeping on the other hand had to be pretty much self-taught; in those days the idea of qualified coaches in a club was something of a pipe dream – even now finding those capable of teaching wicketkeeping is a rarity.  Nevertheless, with encouragement I learned and progressed, and it gave me the added bonus of now being stood next to Neil on a Sunday afternoon where he would tell highly amusing tales and periodically offer up pertinent advice.  He may not have been a wicketkeeper himself but he knew the game, and importantly he knew when to keep quiet, that advice can be counter-productive if it’s not from a position of knowledge.

Curiously enough his son Chris also would become a keeper (and in my adult life a good friend) and some years later we would battle each other for the position in the first team, with me being driven on by the fact he was usually the first choice.  I was much younger than him and I was learning – put simply he was better than me at that point, though naturally enough I didn’t see it that way at the time.  Besides, my primary role in that side was to be a batsman, first as one of those not quite good enough for the firsts and then moving up the order until reaching the opening slot where I would spend most of my subsequent career.

The third member of those seniors in the Sunday 2nds was the opening bowler, Derek Robinson.  A seamer who eventually had to stop playing when his back finally gave way rather spectacularly during a game; he was also supremely accurate, something of a boon to someone having to learn how to stand up to the stumps from scratch.  With the batsman’s healthy disregard for bowlers of all types, I probably had less direct interaction with him initially in a learning sense (after all, bowling was for lesser types in my mind), but his delightful disposition and humour made him a joy to share a field with and a source of wisdom about the wider game.  As my keeping developed so would his advice in that discipline and his study, usually from fine leg, became a valuable source of information.

Of course, it wasn’t too long before I outgrew the Sunday 2nd XI, progressing through the sides to the league teams, initially the Saturday 2nd XI and then the 1sts.  Runs came much more freely, wicketkeeping progressed rapidly, life developed and I moved away eventually to a new club in a different county who got by far the best of my cricketing career.  It is a deep regret that while their time and effort allowed me to develop into a reasonable cricketer, those at my first club never remotely saw the best of me on the field.

And yet.

Looking back now, everything in terms of my cricketing life developed from those few short years on the lowest rung of the cricketing ladder.  Those three people were hardly alone, there were numerous different ones at every step of the way, even when I was old enough to hold my own as a player at a decent level.  But nothing is so formative as those in the early years who encourage, advise, criticise and perhaps especially when they tell you off.  An opposition player did that once too; I don’t know who he was and never played him again, but one of his team-mates scored undoubtedly one of luckiest fifties I’ve ever seen, balls flying in the air just past fielders, edges past the stumps and so on.  Reaching his half century was greeted by us in silent disbelief, with one or two making unfriendly observations about good fortune.  But as with many friendlies, one of their players was standing at square leg umpiring.  He came in at the end of the over and quietly said “People have different levels of ability – this is a big thing for him, respect his achievement”.  That opponent may never have scored a fifty again in his life, but that was his day, and it was magnificent.

His comment is seared into my mind, I felt deeply and utterly ashamed instantly, and the lesson he taught my fourteen year old self remained me with ever since.  I would always applaud or acknowledge an opponent’s landmark from then on, no matter how fortunate it might have been, and that wise cricketer’s words were passed on by me to many a young team-mate in similar circumstances.  I doubt he would ever even remember saying so, but I cannot thank him enough for delivering that quiet, understated bollocking.

For here is the point:  Few are ever aware of the impact they have on other people, young people especially.   They would doubtless be surprised to learn of their part in it all.  Neil Duncombe even gave me my first set of batting pads, old-fashioned cane ones with buckles that provided limited protection to my legs, but they were mine and they were a gift from someone I both looked up to and adored.  Mike Connell made me into a wicketkeeper.  Just him, no one else; hundreds of stumpings and catches down to his decision on a sunny day.  What made him do that, I have no idea.  Derek Robinson taught me how to improve, how to get better, and how to have fun on a cricket field.

I never told them.  Oh dear God, I didn’t tell any of them, not these three, not Paul Brook – a modest cricketer but a great man, not Martyn Cobb who taught me that cricket is a game that rewards thinking, not one of the many others I could list who weren’t my father yet who did so much.  In at least one case it’s now too late, and for the others I don’t know where they are or if even they are still around.  These people were instrumental in my cricketing life, yet I was far too self-absorbed with the arrogance and certainty of youth to realise it at the time.  They taught me everything, they gave up their time – yes to have fun, but also to guide, encourage and teach a young player about both the game and about life itself.

Everyone reading this will have had the same kind of experience;  it might be in cricket, it might be in any other sport. It doesn’t even have to be within a sport itself, for we all have those who have made the difference to who we are.  These names mean nothing to all but a very few, but you will have your own who do.  Tell them.  Express to them what they did for you.  Tell them how important they were, thank them for being who they were and what they did.

Before it’s too late.  Before you fervently wish you had taken just a moment to do so.


33 thoughts on “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

  1. Clivejw Apr 12, 2017 / 5:36 pm

    What an absolutely splendid piece of writing. A terrific read, thank you.


  2. jennyah46 Apr 12, 2017 / 5:44 pm

    A very touching piece of writing.


  3. oreston Apr 12, 2017 / 8:27 pm

    Once again an absolutely lovely piece.


  4. Topshelf Apr 12, 2017 / 10:09 pm

    This is rather brilliant, and pertinent, and true.

    I made my 11-year-old read it. He is a properly good player, on the first few rungs of the long ladder to making it quite far in the game. And really wants to, which I would love, of course.

    But honestly, all I wish for him and his brother is that they have the sort of experience above that leads them truly to love the game, to understand what it is really to belong in a team of often very disparate individuals, and to want to pass it on to those who follow them. That would make me happy, and proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. RufusSG Apr 13, 2017 / 8:59 am

    A really lovely piece of writing, top work. Even if you’ve got no cricketing ability whatsoever (like me) the benefits and values that playing it can instill in you are entirely universal, and the memories are priceless, whatever your skill.


    • thelegglance Apr 14, 2017 / 12:02 pm

      I honestly think one of the most exciting things I watched was a friend who really couldn’t what at all score a fifty. I was bouncing. Seeing other people achieve something is often the most memorable thing. When a good friend scored his maiden (overdue) hundred, I was devastated I’d got out missing a full toss for about 70. I wanted to be out there when he did it. I can recall giving him the biggest cuddle, I was so thrilled.


    • oreston Apr 13, 2017 / 2:30 pm

      “Whilst Middlesex is fully supportive of the creation of a new T20 tournament to drive the future of the game, we are unable to support this proposal at the current time.  Middlesex has a unique position in playing at a ground that is likely to be a host venue at the tournament, yet not benefiting from the revenues associated with that status.”

      At least they’re making a stand, but I’d have thought Middlesex can advance this case less convincingly than other counties since they don’t actually own Lords and presumably can’t therefore ultimately argue a direct entitlement to any revenue streams stemming from the use of the ground that don’t involve Middlesex CCC. It’s the MCC who are actually in the driving seat.
      I wonder what Selvey will make of his old county’s members going rogue.


    • Mark Apr 13, 2017 / 2:38 pm

      They are dam right to vote against it. It’s a massive power grab by the ECB. As they say, Lords will be a venue, yet the county won’t bennefit from it. It’s actully outrageous what the ECB are proposing. Put the 20/20 to one side, (MCC support a new tournament) but the change in the ECB legal position regards county rights will be lost for ever. Any County who votes for this are signing their own death warrant.

      Its a cricket version of communism. The Stalinist ECB come in, and steal county grounds from the counties, and then run their own competition and trouser the cash. Uncle Joe would have been proud. All the counties should tell Tom Harrison, and Andrew Strauss to go and build their own stadiums and put their own capital at risk.


      • Mark Apr 13, 2017 / 2:41 pm

        When I said MCC, I should have said Middlesex county cricket club.


        • LordCanisLupus Apr 13, 2017 / 3:06 pm

          Don’t underestimate the MCC. The ECB want to suspend ground membership rights for the competition. Good luck with getting that at Lord’s.


      • SimonH Apr 13, 2017 / 3:14 pm

        Sadly, Dobell’s Tweeted he thinks it won’t amount to more than a gesture.

        Hopefully other counties who are unhappy might pluck up the intestinal fortitude to join Middlesex. Essex and Surrey are known to be unhappy. What’s going on at other potential big losers like Somerset and Glos?

        On a connected, but slightly tangential, theme – has anyone seen any crowd stats for the IPL? I’ve heard mentions that they aren’t good but can’t find any concrete evidence (except mentions of a poor crowd at the opening ceremony). There are plenty of articles about poor crowds at the 2016 IPL but that was put down to T20 fatigue after the WC. A second poor season couldn’t be so easily written off….

        It was be just like the ECB to burn down the current house and to be doing so in pursuit of a busted flush (to mix my metaphors!).

        Liked by 1 person

      • oreston Apr 13, 2017 / 3:15 pm

        Mark, I agree with you 100%. All I was doing was pointing out the irony that of all the counties it’s Middlesex making a stand – partly on the basis of not deriving future income from the use of a ground that (because of unique historical circumstances) they’ve never owned in the first place.
        The bigger picture is the changes to the ECB articles which (as you say) is nothing less than a death warrant for the First Class counties (and ultimately for First Class cricket as we know it) and should be resisted at all costs.


      • Mark Apr 13, 2017 / 4:00 pm

        As you say it’s ironic that it is Middlesex who are making a stand. I can not understand why so many counties have raised the White flag. They are spineless Jellies. Half of them will be marginalised with no cricket anywhere near them, and the other half will have the Jack boot of the ECB stomping around their property exploiting it for the ECBs own interests.

        The counties could of created their own competition, and sold the rignts direct to the tv companies. They don’t need the ECB. They have the grounds, the players, and the fans. It’s a mark of their complete incompetence they could not organise it themselves. Now they are handing over the whole,thing to ECB. Including legal changes which will Be the death nail for many of them.

        39 is ex Middlesex. I’m sure a huge editorial denouncing his old county will be coming.


      • SimonH Apr 14, 2017 / 7:58 pm

        Does this mean that Middlesex will lose the threatened £1.3m?

        (I’d forgotten that particular threat of the ECB’s – but Chris “An Elephant Never Forgets” Stocks has reminded me of it).


  6. BobW Apr 13, 2017 / 11:12 am

    A lovely article and it rings true. I often think about the old boys I played with at Stone CC in Dartford. Similar to the Leg Glance, thanks to a work colleague of my father I started playing club cricket at the age of 11/12. I’d bat at number 10 or 11 to start with. Better still they would let me open the bowling but for three overs maximum until the batsmen realised I was there for the taking! Then I would be taken off. It pained ne every time but now I’m older I can see at that age I was not quite the Dennis Lillie figure I thought I was.
    At fifteen I join Bromley CC where again there were plenty of old boys in the lower teams to dispense advice. One lovely person was Ronnie Fenn. He was in his 60’s, an ex Minor Counties player. He said he would play the following year as long as he manage a score higher than his age that season. He did that and more for many seasons after I joined and left.
    One time I was at second slip when the ball was edged past me. Ronnie caught quite a stunning catch inches from the ground. I realised I was too close to the batsman and should have taken the catch. All Ronnie said was ‘I think that was yours wasn’t it?’ Lesson learned.
    I too never forgot those that helped me along the way and in return I always felt that I had an obligation to help all those where you can in the game.
    Funnily enough I could never understand those who when they left the game retired or left at the top. My Father in Law was one. I always thought you should pay it back. Drop down a level and enjoy the game.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance Apr 14, 2017 / 11:59 am

      Played against Bromley many times. We may even have played each other!


  7. AB Apr 13, 2017 / 2:42 pm

    There is something uniquely joyful about cricket that makes people so desperate to share that joy with others that they continue to play well into their senior years purely for the enjoyment of still being involved and being able to ensure that youngsters get the right introduction to the game.

    There are so many different narratives to a cricket match, that it seems that no two are ever exactly alike. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday, but I can still describe in perplexing detail every moment of cricket matches I played in a decade ago. I remember scoring my first 50 aged 13, over 20 years ago. I can remember the weather, the pitch, even a few of the shots. A cover drive in particular comes to mind – I can remember my first 5-ver aged 15, that my 3rd wicket was a hit wicket, and that they got my name wrong in the book, but I didn’t care. I can remember games in which I didn’t do much statistically, but as a team we defended a low total by a couple of runs, the joy of being “in the hunt”, and the sheer emotional exhaustion after that last ball thudded into the keepers gloves.

    If pressed, I could tell you every score I have ever got for my current club and how I got out, (some 80 innings), in order, off the top of my head.

    This game of ours is incredibly precious, we really must do all we can to protect it from those incompetent, avaricious bastards at the ECB.


    • thelegglance Apr 14, 2017 / 11:56 am

      Can you really? I remember certain innings, but others not at all. I remember clearly the best innings I ever played, on a pitch that was frankly dangerous where we’d debated calling it off. At half way when they got 230, it seemed a bit churlish to do that, even more so when we won by 9 wickets. Didn’t even get a hundred, but it was by miles my best knock. To infuriate Dmitri, I can’t even recall all my centuries, and I barely remember any fifties at all, though there were lots of those.


  8. SimonH Apr 13, 2017 / 8:05 pm

    Scyld Berry is still on the bonkers’ steroids:

    “Cook a disruptive influence back in the ranks? Whispering to old mates behind Joe Root’s back and undermining the new leader? No imagination can surely conceive of that happening”.

    Clumsy foot-in-mouth comments that sort of undermine the new leader or other unfavoured ones – I can imagine that. And stop calling me Shirley…

    ” Saving runs in the field became his first priority, and at times it would seem his only one…. In this context, when James Anderson captained Lancashire last weekend in their second innings against Essex, it was notable he set exactly the same ultra-defensive fields as Cook in his last days: only two close fielders for a newish ball, no more than two round the bat for a spinner. Emollient, never confrontational, Cook gave Anderson and Stuart Broad too much leeway, and settled for funky fields instead of attacking”.

    Where to start with this? I’ve written plenty here on Anderson and Broad’s inclination to defensiveness. But didn’t Cook have 50+ Tests to stand up to them? Did they force Cook to set his atrocious fields for Rashid? Cook didn’t because he’s so “emollient”? I wouldn’t mistake an aversion to face-to-face confrontations and planting stories with favoured journalists with being emollient. Also, I’m not convinced that Anderson would have made a good England captain – but I wouldn’t write him off based on one D2 CC match. How did Berry even know about this?

    “Cook and his phlegmatism, stubbornness, hunger, bravery and sheer skill. He has faced 23,560 balls in his England career and must have been struck on the upper body by less than a handful”.

    Cook is a skillful player of the short-ball but he hasn’t exactly played in a vintage era for fast-bowling and any pace bowler of any sense has realised that pitching it up outside off-stump is the way to go against Cook. And wasn’t it how seldom Cook was bowled that used to get Berry’s juices flowing? I wonder why he’s suddenly changed tack?…

    “They [Jennings and Hameed] are a pair of exceptional lads, but when the fur is flying on that first morning in Brisbane on November 23, there is probably no opening batsman in England’s annals that you would rather see than their leading Test run-scorer: bat raised, then settling into his stance, raising his hands high to drop the short ball down or shovelling through mid-wicket, then taking a few steps towards square-leg, before focussing on nothing but the next ball”.

    This is the player who barely averages 30 in the last three Ashes’ series and hasn’t scored one century….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Apr 13, 2017 / 9:42 pm

      He’s just trolling us now.

      If he really belives some of this he is a fruit cake. The only sustained, genuinely fast bowling Cook and England have faced recently is the last Ashes down under. And cook didn’t exactly cover himself in glory on and off the field. ( which by the way, also makes a mockery of Cooks belief that the current game is as good as it has ever been.)

      As to the negative field settings….. this has been Englands MO since Flower and Strauss and bowling dry. One trick ponies with about as much original thought as you will find in Tate Modern.

      I don’t know why he is even writing this stuff now. Isn’t the whole focus supposed to be on the Champions trophy? When the tests do start up it is going to be very boring if they are going to still be fawning all over Cook. It’s like an illness. Pity poor Root if England lose. It might be interesting to see if the Cook loyalists don’t want England to win now, just so they can say we told you so.


    • Rooto Apr 14, 2017 / 6:31 am

      The oddest, though perhaps least surprising, thing from your quotes is how Berry completely fails to understand the meaning of the word ‘funky’.
      These guys really need to learn the lesson from (IIRC) Maynard Keynes about changing one’s conclusions when different facts emerge.


    • Mark Apr 14, 2017 / 11:57 am

      Interesting, if not rather depressing. When “brands” start throwing their weight around the magic tends to fade for me. How riddiculous that the word “Lions” has to be changed for that Cambridge dinner. That alone makes me inclined to hope the All blacks stuff them.

      However, it’s supply and demand I guess? and if 35000 people want to spend their money being exploited by over priced hotels and expensive tat I guess more fool them. The Lions (are we little people even allowed to use that term?) is a rarity, only taking place every 4 years. But if they start pulling in that kind of cash some bright marketeers will want more. Not sure the home nations will allow that though. It might start to encroach on their financial turf.

      One wonders if the players will justify their price tag if they are knackered after a long season. But taking money of fans is like taking sweets off kids. They deserve each other.


    • LordCanisLupus Apr 14, 2017 / 12:01 pm

      It makes us sound like depressing old curmudgeons but the sports world allowed itself to go this way. I look at the way the US televises it sport and the big events, the really big ones, are rarely on cable (we’ve had the debate as to whether ESPN is basic cable or not – it isn’t. You do not get it automatically as you would on Freeview in the UK). Even when ESPN secures a major event, like the NBA Finals, it screens it on ABC (both owned by Disney) to get the widest audience. With all this rampant commercialism surrounding the Lions tour, it is still shown on Sky Sports so most people won’t be able to watch it. I am still baffled how commercial partners fall over themselves to support these events when they are kept from most of the public.

      This absolutely has to go bang at some point. I am seriously contemplating giving up sports channels because it is becoming an expensive luxury I can’t afford. I suspect I’m not the only one. The chaps I meet at work in their early 20s genuinely don’t seem to care about sport much any more (I have a keen rugby player, but the others might kick a ball about, but don’t play team sports).

      Clubs were dying when I was playing 10-15 years ago. Many merged. Some sold their grounds. Park pitches became fewer in number. The salaries of the top players increased while the grass roots withers. The Olympics couldn’t inspire a generation, so now someone else has to do it. I am rambling away but I just feel so sad that top sport is divorcing itself from anyone who can’t pay to even watch it on TV. You want mass participation, but you restrict the top stuff from those who might see it and love it.

      It’s a recipe for disaster. But it’s long-term, so kick that can down the road, and make hay while there is still some sunshine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thelegglance Apr 14, 2017 / 12:04 pm

        They’ve got themselves in a pickle whereby the model is built around the money coming in, so they say they can’t give it up. And it’s someone else’s problem when the base disappears, so they don’t care that much. When have the ECB ever had someone at the top who you felt loved the game for the sake of the game itself?


        • LordCanisLupus Apr 14, 2017 / 12:12 pm

          They probably all say they do, because the quickest way (outside of the top echelons of the Premier League) to make a small fortune is to have a large fortune and buy a sports club in the UK. I’d bet Lord McLaurin, Giles Clarke and Costcutter Colin would all tell you that they do what they do because they love the sport of cricket. The “I don’t have to do this job, because I’m loaded already” reason.

          I don’t get excited by the Lions tour, but know plenty of people who do. New Zealand will sell it to the highest bidder. Sky or BT will always win. There’s not a lot that can be done about that. But your home sport? There is. As you said, Chris, rugby league gets it. Rugby Union has the Six Nations. Football is a rule unto itself. Cricket isn’t.


      • Mark Apr 14, 2017 / 2:45 pm

        Iam not convinced all these sponsorship deals are that great for the company who foot the bill anyway. In many cases it may be on a whim or the CEO just likes the sport, and it is a good way of getting to be involved. Meeting the players, the coaches. ( Gatland said in that interview how much work he has to do with the sponsors.) Free trips, and tickets for your chums, and top staff and clients all on the company £. And you get to write it off against tax as an expense. These are the sort of things sharehoolders turn a blind eye to. The CEO can construct a waterfall of bullshit to claim it is in the companies interest. Nobody really knows. How many people take out a bank loan with a bank because they saw the name on a rugby shirt?

        As to the TV audience, a small but elite prosperous viewer who can pay is all that is required. The Tv companies, and it would seem the governing bodies would prefer to sell to 1 million subscribers paying £700 per year….. (which is a £700 million.) Rather than 10 million subscibers paying £100 a year. Perhaps they know that they can’t get 10 million. Even at £100.

        I’m with you Dmitri it sounds like we are a bunch of old codgers howling at the moon. But I’m pretty close to being done with it. I think I will keep Sky for this summer, and the SA tour, and then the winter Ashes. After that I think I willl give up. Spend my £700 on something else. It’s not as if these sports even give a shit about their customers anyway. And customers are how we are viewed. They hate the idea of fans these days.


        • thelegglance Apr 14, 2017 / 2:48 pm

          I’ve got bad news for you Mark: the away Ashes are on BT Sport.


      • Mark Apr 14, 2017 / 3:16 pm

        Oh that’s ok then, I have BT sport as well. I get it reduced with my telephone and broadband. Can’t see that lasting as they win more and more sports rights?

        So I might dump Sky after the summer. I seem to watch less and less premiership anyway. Far too many very ordinary footballers are earning millions. Time for me to stop paying their wages I think.


  9. SimonH Apr 14, 2017 / 1:40 pm


    • LordCanisLupus Apr 14, 2017 / 7:31 pm

      Dobell’s report tonight is, well, just everything we think…

      Finding the silver lining to the cloud is a necessary skill for the county cricket watcher at this time of year.

      It is not just enduring the inevitable bouts of rain and cold weather they will encounter in the early season – we lost almost exactly half a day here – but that, increasingly, they have had to accept their team’s needs are so far down the administrators’ list of priorities that the chances of putting out a full-strength side are minimal.

      Despite all the ECB’s talk of communication and transparency – a word that is hard to square with the non-disclosure agreements that have bound county officials to secrecy in recent times – associated with the new-team T20 competition, there is a sense of disenfranchisement pervading county spectators at present that suggests their administrators have stopped representing or even listening to them. Really, they may as well just slap county spectators in the face when they buy a ticket and have done with it. The sooner supporters have a collective voice the better; the Cricket Supporters’ Association may be the partial answer.

      There was a time when it would have been unthinkable to allow England’s best players to grace another nation’s domestic tournament during the county season, as is the case with Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and several others at the IPL. And while most people will understand the well-intentioned reasons – they can gain wealth and useful white-ball experience before a global limited-overs event – they might also reflect on the costs: it is inevitable that the standard of the County Championship will be diluted by the absence of its best players.

      Just as it is inevitable that England will struggle to produce spin bowlers – or batsmen with experience of playing spin bowling – while so much of the season is pushed into the margins (counties will have played eight of their 14 Championship matches by the end of June) and medium-paced nibblers are disproportionately important. It is many years since England produced a legspinner as talented as Mason Crane; there is something wrong with a system that cannot find a space for him in a side.

      The ECB may claim it is keen to prioritise Test cricket, but it is hard to ignore the conclusion that it has prioritised white-ball (especially T20) cricket at every opportunity in recent months. The scheduling of this season’s T20, with matches in a block, is the primary reason so high a proportion of the Championship has to be played so early in the season and the introduction of another T20 competition, to be played at the same time as the 50-over competition, will equally compromise England’s performances in the World Cup.

      Really, it tells you everything you need to know about the future shape of cricket that the new-team T20 competition is scheduled to start on 24/7/2020. Yes, the days of endless T20 are almost upon us. And good luck in the 2023 World Cup if the top 110 players in the country haven’t played domestic 50-over cricket for four years.

      How, really, can the absence of Jonny Bairstow – who hasn’t played first-class cricket this year – in this match be justified? He was, after all, free to go to the IPL but, having not been picked-up in the auction, has been rested from the Championship and is instead summarising for Sky. It is just another example of the way the game’s administrators continue to demean and degrade the competition they should protect and promote.

      If only they believed in it as much as the 1.1 million who listened to the BBC’s commentary on the Championship’s first round. If only they believed in it enough to invest the (circa) £35m ring-fenced for the first year of the new-team competition into the NatWest Blast. If only they believed that the return to free-to-air they foresee for the new competition would also revive the old. Alas, it seems the ECB has lost faith in its own products and is therefore prepared to risk their health in search of something new.

      None of this is the individual players’ faults. They have been encouraged to rest or play in the IPL. But the danger of such policies is that, in time, they weaken the Test side. We saw in India and Bangladesh how England’s issues against spin can be exposed and, if the gap between county and Test grows wider, we will see further reverses at Test level. It is understandable that the ECB wants to prioritise white-ball cricket – it may even be right to do so – but it would be nice if they were a little more open about it. You could make a strong case that the ECB represents one of the most serious threats to the future of Test cricket.

      The silver lining to all this is that, had Yorkshire been at full strength, it is highly likely that Ben Coad would not have won selection for these opening matches of the season. But with Liam Plunkett, David Willey, Jack Brooks and Ryan Sidebottom all absent against Hampshire last week due to injury, Coad was drafted into the side and responded with eight wickets in the game.


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