Without fanfare or wild acclamation across the media (although the Today programme on Radio 4 gave it a one sentence mention in one of their three sports bulletins), or anywhere else come to that, the County Championship for 2018 started today.
I gave my blog the number 51 as that was the number of days I would be in Oz watching the Ashes but it’s also probably the number of playing days needed to decide this competition – 56 is the maximum but most matches don’t last the four days allocated to each. Long gone are the 96 days of yesteryear for the Championship (32 games of three days each for those too young to remember!)
So where does this competition sit in the grand scheme? Increasingly sidelined to book end the season – played in the cold of April and early May and then reappearing as a ghost of summers past in the chill of September, it may end up like Woolworths…lost from the UK high street as a long term retailer, it’s loss bemoaned by the public but when asked ‘when did you last use it?’ The answer is clear!
Yes, the one day game is supreme, the only cash cow the ECB and counties have and that’s fine, if it keeps the game alive but milking cash cows and the geese which lay the golden eggs (I know you can’t milk a goose) constantly and to excess can only bring failure. I’m assuming that the aim of the Championship is to bring forth the test players of the future and the pride of England and also to act as a stiff competition or place where current test players can return to to fix their game…but where are our spinners going to be able to hone their craft on dry summer pitches? It’s green beyond belief as I look out at the Lords pitch today and the dust bowls of summer will not see much first class play. Where are the young fast tyros able to bowl at 90+ mph going to be able to learn? Essex fast bowler and one of Wisdens five cricketers of the year, Jamie Porter has said he doesn’t need to bowl at 90mph to get into the England team but someone needs to! Well, Australia produced both quicks and spinners in their summer just gone and made England look like nincompoops…is that what we want? Or do we want every test just to be a test of how to try and deal with alien conditions and the home side wins every time?
Can the Championship adapt? Will it produce world class test players of the future if skills are not developed or will tests just wither on the vine as white ball play becomes the norm? Who knows…but the question is testing a lot of people!
Yet somehow it’s the best followed and largest first class tournament in the world!
Meanwhile here at Lords we have the first day of Middlesex v. Northants being played on the greenest pitch seen for a long time – a result of the cold and damp spring so far. It should be ideal today for swing and seam being overcast, floodlit and likely to be so all day. The uncontested toss means that Northants are going to take full advantage of the conditions as the forecast is for improving weather over the coming days. So far (after 45 mins) they have the upper hand with Middlesex 26-2 and Sanderson nearly on a hat trick! So soon! But it took him and the rest of the attack a little time to find the right length and direction to get the ball to swing/seam but very early days in a not-so-long season!
Things did not improve for Middlesex lunching at 64-4. It will be interesting to see how the Middlesex quicks fare on this surface. Batting is not easy today and may not be much better tomorrow as the weather forecast is similar. One thing I haven’t seen for a long time was the use of four slips for the whole session as it was clearly going to swing and seam all day. The Northants wicketkeeper was the busiest guy on the field in dealing with the swinging ball and early ill-directed bowling.
The first day crowd is reasonable but sheltering from the breeze and finding warmth wherever they can as the thermometer may be in double figures but the ‘feels like’ is firmly stuck in low single digits! Oh how long ago the 42C of Sydney seems!
We reach mid-afternoon and following a brief skirmish with a glimpse of sunshine, play has been suspended for bad light at 132-4 for Middlesex. No alarms or excursions so far this arvo but batting is not easy out there. The all pace and four slips attack has induced the odd edge which hasn’t gone to hand but what is clearer at ground level is the variable bounce from the Nursery End. Anyway Simpson and Stirling are doing sterling work and have added nearly 70 without too much trouble. We shall see if play resumes but so far we’ve been luckier here than elsewhere across the country.
The talk of the Long Room is why play has been suspended when Middlesex were doing so well and batting at their best so far? It seems that under floodlights when the natural light has deteriorated so much that the lights take over, the red ball can appear double – ie you see two balls instead of one or it makes a shadow as it moves through the air? . It seems that the pink and white balls used in limited overs don’t act this way! I reckon someone is pulling my…
Time is marching on and the light not improving so this may be it for the day…we shall see.