We reach day 3 of the first round of County Championship matches and here at Lord’s it seems that the pitch is mellowing slightly but ever so slightly. We are back to high levels of cloud cover, no floodlights and the occasional skirmish with sunshine and two more wickets in the first half hour. Yesterday was one of those weird days when all four innings were in play and 26 wickets fell. But this raises a number of concerns over the Championship as if there aren’t enough already!
Better writers and paid correspondents have pontificated at length already about the marginalisation of the Championship but…
The poor spring and late winter weather have not been conducive to pitch and outfield preparation and even into the third day at Headingley there has still been no play due to the wet outfield; and the poor grounds have lead to early abandonment of some practice fixtures (with due respect to the Universities involved)
This has not enabled players (and umpires) to get into any kind of nick or form from game one. What were trigger happy umpires yesterday are today more thoughtful and deliberative.
And resting key players after a long and stressful winter spent overseas in sunny warm climes doing what they are paid for when most of us would just love to have 10% of the skills they have and to be paid for a pastime…just don’t get me going! Yes, we all need a break from normal toil and work but please…
So what is a solution? bearing in mind T20 is all powerful – how about going back to what worked in the past? Ok let’s not push everything back to a May 1 start but the first half of April is too early! The start needs to go back a week or even two. Essex and Yorkshire have lost two days of their match – and these are good sides winning the Championship three of the last four years between them. Losing large blocks of time in what could be a match with bearing on the title is not good (perhaps Yorkshire are not that keen to play Essex so soon with the memory of their abject performance at Chelmsford last September still fresh in their minds…and it was poor!).
‘But…’ I hear county treasurers cry ‘we take as much in one T20 game, as we take on the gate all summer long in the Championship’; ok then let’s squeeze the cash cow so that it produces more cream than milk! Take out a few T20 games, make the product less widely available so that premium prices can be charged at the gate. Make the product more elusive so it attracts a higher price? Which leads to the question – why should we? No one cares for the Championship, so let’s marginalise it even more and one day why bother at all since Tests will be defunct within years and all we need is a constant diet of one day instant gratification. Call me old fashioned and a traditionalist but don’t you need to know where you’ve come from before you can go forward?
Ok…back to the match here at Lord’s- after all we need to deal with what we have, not what we’d like. This pitch is not a 71ao pitch – the bowling was exemplary and the batting shamelessly awful and as lunch is taken Northants need another 179 with 5 wickets in hand, five sessions available ( 160+ overs) and the slight possibility of light rain later today. Somehow I think it will be all over by the end of play today.
From afar the pitch is getting easier to play…although the Northants batsmen may not agree – each first innings saw over a third of the overs being maidens, but it’s now just over 10%. Did the delivery for that last wicket (Levi c Helm b Harris 23) ‘stop’ on the pitch? Is the uneven bounce from the Nursery End too uneven or is the bowling by both sides better equipped to play to the strengths of the pitch than the batting? Even so, Levi took an age to walk off…it would have been quicker to crawl! And it needs to be asked…what was on offer for lunch today? Whatever it was has put a spring into the bowling and stodge into the batting post-lunch.
From what I’ve seen since it must have been kamikaze food for Northants as they spiral out of control whilst Harris (that man again) works his wonders from the Pavilion End – ok, the lower middle order is not expected to dig in, but some gumption would not go amiss! Whatever Middlesex had for lunch worked wonders…5 wickets for 18 runs in just over the half hour to record a win by 160 runs
Overall I think the pitch was a 175/200 run pitch per innings and will probably not merit any penalty: it was just poor batting and application by Northants that lost them the game. And who can remember the last time Lord’s was reported for a sub-standard pitch? Ok, iconic grounds are not exempt from censure (MCG for the Ashes test was rated as poor and you could probably still be playing on it today) but who would look to criticise the Home of Cricket?
And then why not Headingley for the current non-game? Worcester for its regular flooding and Ciderabad in the West Country?
But the question remains (and how many times can I get the word ‘lords’ into a legitimate and sensible sentence) if Lord’s is reported to Lord’s then who lords it over Lord’s?