Ball One – The County Championship remains the cornerstone of the domestic cricket season
From early April to late September, only three weeks have no County Championship cricket at all, and this is the first of them. The cricket calendar is always a matter of intense debate, but, with the premier competition being followed indirectly via media more than directly via spectating, sustaining a coherent narrative over the whole season is important. That’s one reason amongst many why an 18 counties, two division, all play all home and away structure works in England. The rest of the domestic cricket calendar should fit around that.
Ball Two – Twenty20, when everything falls into place, can still draw a crowd
If following four day cricket is all about not being there, consuming (can I say that?) Twenty20 cricket is all about being there. With the sun out in London, big crowds turned up at Lord’s and The Oval for the spectacle, the sixes and the sunshine. If London is often a rule unto itself, Headingley’s first capacity crowd for a domestic match since 2004 pitched up for a Friday Roses clash. Get the right games on the right dates at the right price (and get a bit of luck with the weather) and Twenty20 can still pack ’em in – and leave ’em smiling.
Ball Three – The absence of franchises can work in English Twenty20
Star players help sell the short format game too, but with county roots stronger than franchise roots, there’s plenty of latent affection amongst locals for their clubs, so the big names are less important in England than elsewhere. What matters most here – once the sun is out or the evening balmy – is a tight finish, and there were plenty of those this week. The 15.000 faithful in Leeds got the closest result of all – a tie – as the old rivals finished 152-152. Nobody left that match complaining that Yorkshire were without their England stars (nor even an overseas player) or that Lancashire’s biggest name is Simon Katich, nearly 38 now. All three results were about equal odds as Ryan Sidebottom bowled the last ball of the match to Steven Croft – two runs divided the spoils. And sent both sets of fans home happily grumpy – just the way they like it.
Ball Four – Derbyshire finding solace in Twenty20
With its three distinct competitions, the English season offers scope for multiple narratives and a county is never too far away from redemption, even some three months after starting out. Derbyshire look doomed to relegation in the County Championship, but, led by the wisest of old heads in Shiv Chanderpaul, they overhauled Lancashire’s 151 and sit handily placed just behind Nottinghamshire in a tough looking Twenty20 North Division. Finals Day is always a great occasion and can rescue a moribund season, and that’s what will sustain Derbyshire’s hunger for the game. Not so long ago, such “Get Out Of Jail Free” cards used to be cited as contributors to England’s “soft” cricket, but you don’t hear that so much these days. History, as usual, is written by the winners.
Ball Five – Forgotten man at 25?
Craig Kieswetter has played 71 matches for England in the last three years (how they mount up) but injury and the emergence of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow as biffing wicketkeeper-batsmen has pushed him down the pecking order. He still hits a long ball and showed his value at the top of the order by anchoring Somerset’s chase of Gloucestershire’s 190 with 89 not out off 55 balls. Ironically, Buttler, who has usurped him as keeper at Taunton too, also caught the eye in the same innings, making 29 from 13 balls, providing middle overs momentum at exactly the right moment. For such a short game, Twenty20 has developed remarkably specialist roles. Do England need a wicketkeeper to go in and aim to bat through at a strike rate of about 150 or do they need a man for the middle orders who aims to make 30 off 15 balls against defensive fields? Kieswetter or Buttler? (Or, like Somerset, both?)
Ball Six – If the Rolling Stones can do it…
Of course, The Ashes dominates cricket until the end of August, but there are plenty who have locked horns in the battle for the urn who are spending summer 2013 playing mainly county cricket. This is the roll call of ex-Ashes men currently on the circuit: Paul Collingwood (Durham); Graham Onions (Durham); Steve Harmison (Durham 2nd XI); James Foster (Essex); Ravi Bopara (Essex); Saj Mahmood (Essex); Shaun Tait (Essex); Simon Jones (Glamorgan); Marcus North (Glamorgan); Geraint Jones (Kent); Rob Key (Kent); Simon Katich (Australia); Matthew Hoggard (Leicestershire); Chris Read (Nottinghamshire); Marcus Trescothick (Somerset); Ricky Ponting (Surrey); Chris Tremlett (Surrey); Monty Panesar (Sussex). It would be cruel to suggest that an XI selected from that list could beat the current Australian team, so I shan’t.
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