I have a confession to make; I like going to watch county cricket. With spring in the air and a new season looming I have already earmarked likely first and second eleven fixtures on my multi-coloured computer desktop calendar.
I am delighted to see Lancashire and Liverpool Cricket Club appear to have got over their recent spat and a fixture has been allocated to the city’s Aigburth ground even though it is a Royal London cup one-dayer. Despite the contraction of fixtures into cricketing centres and away from outgrounds, the Red Rose still flies the flag with games at Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool. Lancs survival from relegation last year means no bi-annual trek for the fixture with Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay though.
There is little to beat a packed outground on a balmy summer’s day; certainly not sitting alone with a rucksack of sarnies in one of our cavernous Test venues.
I dusted off Duncan Hamilton’s love letter to cricket the other day – A Last English Summer. This doomsday tome envisages 2009 being the last true summer before it all implodes in a T20 galactic supernova. In fact every season since then has seen commentators bemoan crash bang cricket, central contracts, mercenaries and kolpak insurgents.
Hamilton waxes lyrical about the Golden Age of Constantine, Hobbs and Bradman although I’m pretty sure he’s not old enough to have seen any of them. However he superbly catches the deep pull of nostalgia and I am sure sees himself as the literary successor to Cardus and Allott and has worn out his dvd of Death of a Gentleman.
Everyone has a view on the future of the game; from the crusties who are clinging to tradition like a starving trucker grasping a Yorkie, to the cash obsessed suits at the ECB who scrabble for cash like a beggar rooting around a dustbin.
However times do move on and there is little point thinking that we should be stuck in some sort of timewarp. I agree with him that the long form game is now just a mere trifle to be cut, sliced and crumbled in favour of the right Eton Mess of T20.
The question is; what to do about it? The CC has been allowed to stagnate with little support, marketing or direction. I asked Lancashire’s commercial director five years ago to implement a staggered payment regime for county games to attract the walk-in customer. Last year they finally implemented £15 all day, tenner after lunch and a fiver for the last session.
But does more need to be done?
I now refer to the case for the prosecution. Last August on a bright, searing day I was at Old Trafford to see the last days of the Roses encounter which dangled the carrot of a thrilling finale.
Lancs began the morning intent on setting the auld enemy a target to chase. The precocious Haseeb Hameed wrote himself into the record books with a glorious second century of the match. The 19 year old shook off his Wall of Bolton nickname to dab and carve his way to 100 not out.
The declaration left a target of 367 in 71 overs. Surely Yorkshire, hanging on to Middlesex’s coat-tails in the CC title race, would give it a go? Lees and Lyth kept the scoreboard ticking over during the afternoon. At 4 p.m. no wickets down and 219 required off 30. Time for tea. What happened during the break is pure speculation. Afterwards with 180 required off 20 the dig in began. Fifteen runs off five overs after tea.
I said to a couple of Tykes nearby that this unfathomable act of cowardice could well cost them their championship. It did.
I was amazed with so much on the line that the game was allowed to fizzle out. In other cases the last afternoon safe draw is often commonplace.
Tradition maybe but surely it is time to punish the bore draw. Either no points for those who perpetrate a stalemate or ban draws American-style.
Surely better marketing is needed too but the plan to virtually stop all CC in the summer holidays looks akin to sabotage.
Something has to change if county cricket is to remain relevant.