First class counties but first class facilities?

As the season draws to a close and the frenetic test series comes to an end, it’s time to turn attention to the County Championship.

The pennant flies over Chelmsford

More than enough has been said and written about the Ashes series so I won’t add unnecessarily to the font of human wisdom other than to say it’s been a privilege to be able to watch Steve Smith ‘live’; he is a phenomenon and we won’t see his like again in many generations. So…if you ever have the chance to see him play, cancel everything else and go!

The penultimate round of County games concentrate on the duel between Somerset and Essex for the Championship and any number of second division teams vying for the remaining promotion slots (Lancashire are assured of being Second Division winners and Notts were condemned to relegation from the first division weeks ago).

So the match between Essex and Surrey (immediate past champions) held attention as did Hampshire v Somerset (the latter in pole position and aiming for their first ever Championship).

Early starts in September advancing the rest of the season starts by 30 mins has led to some odd shaped scorecards this time; not least Kent struggling at 39/5 before going on to declare with eight wickets down for 482! Or Hampshire showing no backbone against Somerset at 88/7 before Liam Dawson (of World Cup game) making a century! And so it continues into Day 2 with Middlesex actually gaining a lead over Lancashire.

On day one, bad light at Chelmsford prevents any play before 2.15pm in the game against Surrey but Somerset plough on as above. A truncated day at Chelmsford sees Surrey at 137/4 in overcast swinging conditions while the forecast is for warm sun for the next three days! Such are the decisions and implications at the toss!

Large crowds on both days …not seen in September for many a long year! Perhaps it’s the prospect of being champions, or the last home match of the season, or the fine weather or dare one say the effect of the World Cup or the Ashes? But looking around the crowd demographic hasn’t changed from the standard ‘old, white and male’ dominance. One wonders how the nation will cope once all these old folk are released back into the community after being corralled all summer at the cricket! Libraries could be inundated!

It may be photogenic but the facilities…?

The CloudFM County Ground can never be described as luxurious and these two days have underlined that. It’s a ground where you either sit being roasted by the September sun like bacon in a pan or freeze to death in the shade and cold wind which always seems to have come straight from the Urals. Add to that the seating which can only be described as dire – at one stage I was squeezed into a space smaller than a Ryanair economy sized seat with the pleasure of a large leg belonging to a portly gentleman digging into my back whilst the spectator in front decided to lean back as much as possible. Where has the concern for your fellow spectator gone?

The best option was to move to a sunny yet only slightly windy spot but the cricket is so far away it may as well be played somewhere in the neighbouring county!

Early morning dew sees the end of a feeble Surrey effort for 174 and yet even as the sun shines and the pitch flattens Essex lose the first three for 51 but by tea reach to within 50-odd of the Surrey score.

Sir A – picture of concentration

Meanwhile the wheels come off the Somerset innings but as often seen in champions-elect they bounce back and have skittled out the first four at Southampton for next to nothing. There’s all still to play for!

But while the wheels may creak, Essex storm past the Surrey score…and more so with fine century from Lawrence and a 70 from ten Doeschate. And still there at the end of the day with power to add and bonus points to win!

What is of concern – and it’s been expressed before – is that playing the Championship at the extremes of the season be it the cold of Spring or the mists of Autumn can’t be a true reflection of the game nor suitable training or grounding for aspiring test players. But we are where we are and until the wheels really come off the test team, then the ECB will do nothing.

So do we have a first class competition with first class facilities – well not everywhere!

Morne Morkel in full flight
Scott Borthwick – remember him spinning for England?

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