The County Game

Over the years, although I've watched a lot of it, I've often been ambivalent about the value, if not the intrinsic qualities, of the English county game. And now, with the usual volley of spring brickbats being fired at it from a range of observers - Scyld Berry, Mike Atherton, Steve James - it feels slightly strange to be writing in its defence.

Yesterday I was at Taunton again. The sun shone all day, and, after Chris Adams' bizarre decision to insert Somerset, there was more assured and at times dismissively brilliant batting from Trescothick, Edwards, Langer and especially James Hildreth, who benefited from two early dropped catches but went on to lay waste to a Sussex attack which kept going well but was always swimming against the tide.

The concerns of James and others (including, apparently, the ECB, although they've done precious little about it so far) about the number of Kolpak players are right on the money. As James said earlier this week, if counties like Northants and Leicestershire can't do any better than stuff their side with South Africans, then perhaps the time has come to wonder whether they're serving any useful purpose at all. Despite the advances in competitiveness and quality engendered by two divisions, I've long bought into the view that there are simply too many first-class sides in England, and the way in which counties are making it more and more evident that there isn't enough English talent to go round only weakens the case for their continued existence even more.

However, one of the supposed 'facts' about County Championship cricket, that 'nobody watches it', perhaps leading people who don't go to matches to think that games are always attended by the proverbial 'one man and his dog', simply isn't, in my experience, true. While yesterday's crowd was unusually large, containing as it did a very large number of Sussex supporters, crowds at Taunton, even in midweek, are usually good (it must have been up over the thousand mark yesterday). Okay, about 90% of the people there on any given day are over sixty, but no matter. As a stripling of 42 it keeps me feeling young, and it's nice to be surrounded by people who know and love the game for what it is, rather than seeing a day at the cricket as an opportunity to make an exhibition of themselves.

It's possible that developments in the wider cricketing world may finally force the hands of the ECB and the counties and lead them towards some meaningful change, and, in many ways, this would be a good thing. However, Jack Simmons' idea of reverting to three-day cricket with 120 overs a day ('revealed' in The Times yesterday) can surely be ignored. Take it from me, Jack, you're not going to get modern county cricketers to bowl 120 overs in a day. They can't even manage 96 in a six hour day now and they're not going to like the idea of their working day being lengthened.

Whatever happens, though, those with the power to decide on the issue must be very careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because there are very many things about county cricket which are still, and will remain, great.

A sunny day at Taunton and a Hildreth century are just two of them.


Viswanathan said...

"seeing a day at the cricket as an opportunity to make an exhibition of themselves". - Thats a telling comment.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks for the comment, Ottayan. Not sure what you found telling about that, but it just reflects my views on people who go to Test matches in England and spend their time trying to get on TV - whether as a result of wearing fancy dress (usually pointless and cliched at best) or, even worse, taking their clothes off and running on to the pitch. Can't they understand that it's about the players in the middle, not them? If just going to a cricket ground and watching cricket is too dull for you, don't come.

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