5/20/2018 0 Comments
By Bob Bowden (@54Bobb)
In recent years it has become customary for a group of lifelong friends, most now recently retired to have a few days away watching Essex, preferably in a four-day county game. We try to avoid rattling around in one of the Test venues and hope the fixture list is kind. This year it was a toss-up between Worcester and Taunton. Worcester won out, despite the risks of it being an early May fixture and the possibility we would have to at some point man the lifeboats.
So what did eight old grumpy gits make of Worcester? Happily, the ground is only a 5-minute stroll from Worcester Foregate Street rail station, and cross the Severn at Bridge Street. And for those planning to stay for the duration the newly opened Premier Inn is situated literally in the ground. It is entirely possible if you are allocated a ground side one to watch the cricket from the comfort of your hotel room. The hotel bar and restaurant also overlook the ground, although the club seem to have wised up fairly quickly. Apparently, a concert was held in the ground, whereupon punters swarmed the bar and watched it from there for nothing. A screen has now been erected to prevent the same happening for the cricket.
The hotel position is mightily handy for the cricket of course, a 30-second stroll out the hotel and into the ground. It does, however, give the Blackfinch New Road ground (as we must now call it) a somewhat lopsided air. It’s now a curious, if still pleasing mix of the old and new. Presumably as part of the deal to sell off the land to build the Premier Inn, adjoining it is a new reception area that also serves as the only ‘turnstiles’ to the ground, offices, and restaurant/bar. There is some limited seating in this new block, which I understood to be called ‘The View’.
Turn left and there are several small blocks of seating that run in front of and beyond the hotel. From here you look across to the main pavilion, a modern affair named after Graeme Hick. Between sits the main scoreboard. To the other side is what one assumes is the old, now slightly dilapidated original pavilion, known as the Ladies Pavilion. Not quite sure what the ladies make of that but I have it on good authority they still serve cakes there at tea. Cast your eyes round to the left and there are hospitality marquees, a tree-filled space which is home I was assured to the black pear tree which are of course featured on the club’s badge. Apparently, black pears aren’t much use for eating but you can make nice chutney with them. Free culinary tip - you’re welcome. Continuing our journey left sits the Basil D’Oliveira Stand, much of which was draped in black and houses the television gantry boxes.
Now, if you’d care to swivel your eyeballs to the right from ‘The View’ sits the New Road Stand, which may, or may not date from around 1900. Atop this charming old relic sit rooms that serve as hospitality boxes with what appear to be small patio areas. Just beyond and next to the main pavilion is Foley’s restaurant (named I think after the founding family of the club) which one of our group assured us served a varied menu including a very reasonably priced and gargantuan full English.
If all the above makes the Blackfinch New Road ground sound a bit of a mish-mash, then I make no apologies for that. It is, and it is all the better for it. Sit in front of the hotel and you have a tree-lined vista and old world cricket architecture in view, from the Pavilion end the new hotel has not blocked out the magnificent view across the River Severn and Worcester Cathedral. The ground is small, quirky and feels a quintessential county ground. Our group of old curmudgeons liked it, very much. Long may it continue.
Ah, but what about the cricket you ask? Essex, off the back of the embarrassing defeat against Yorkshire needed to bounce back. Who better than Worcestershire, a side bottom of the table without a win, what could possibly go wrong? In the end nothing, but there were enough twists and turns over the three days to remind us why we love the county championship and why Colin Graves and his merry band of marketing men should be…well you know.
Essex won the toss, and the first eyebrow-raising moment of the trip was their decision to bat first. It surprised us, and it also shocked the local sages who were of a collective view that Ryan Ten Doeschate had dislodged a few marbles. Post-match, Ryan pretty much agreed with that view saying he thought the wicket looked very dry and was a 350 run pitch and manna from heaven for Simon Harmer in the fourth innings. It had somehow slipped his mind that three weeks previously the ground was under several feet of water and there was a fair bit of moisture still lurking.
Under slightly overcast condition Essex plodded to lunch reaching 64-2. Chopra departed early and Tom Westley scratched around looking for his post-England mojo before he too departed without troubling the scorers very much. Cook and Lawrence, however, looked serene. Post lunch, however, was not a pretty sight. Eight wickets went down in the afternoon session for 113 runs with the home side’s Josh Tongue bowling very well and finishing with 4-45. It could have been even worse without a wag of the Essex tail from Harmer and Siddle who scored 51 runs between them. Not a 350 wicket then, merely a paltry 177. Bad light curtailed the first day 13 overs early but not before the home openers, Mitchell and D’Oliveira reached 47 without loss.
Our band of not so merry men decided some post play refreshment was in order and were recommended a hostelry not a five-minute stroll across the bridge. And what a discovery this gem of a pub was. Take it from me; if you want a proper old school boozer with fine ales, this tiny oasis is the place to go. Which we did, frequently. Oh, it’s called The Plough by the way.
And, so to day two. It’s fair to say that Worcester supporters are, at the moment, feeling a little gloomy about their team. A couple of decent batters, a couple of decent young bowlers and a promising ‘keeper but not much else seems to be the general consensus. The club is it seems in significant debt, so there’s not a lot of cash available for investment. This may also explain why the sightscreens are possibly the worst I’ve ever seen and can’t be of much help to batsmen. One is a large, tatty and rather grubby sheet draped off the top of the new reception block, secured by bits of string to various bits and piece, and when there’s a touch of wind prone to billowing around like a mainsail on a galleon. At the opposite end, the sightscreen consisted of similar material draped over seating. This was fine until the sun came round mid-afternoon and threw a large black shadow off the blacked out D’Oliveira stand right across it. Seriously, guys, you need to do something about it. Ironically, the school behind the ground had proper sightscreens.
Anyway, day two. Essex winkled the home side out 238, with Joe Clarke scoring an excellent hundred, with solid support from openers Mitchell and D’Oliveira. Beyond these three none of the remaining seven batsmen managed double figures. Still, a 61 lead seemed handy, and by close Essex were 143-4. Cook and Chopra almost wiped out the deficit before Essex contrived to lose their three top-order batsmen all shouldering arms. An overnight lead of 82 with only six wickets in hand certainly was the subject of healthy debate as we again repaired to The Plough to blow froth off our beers.
Day three, and the morning was bright and sunny. While we continued to wonder whether Dave’s exotically and unpronounceable beer the previous night tasted of Bovril crisps or bananas, the locals were downcast in their view of the day ahead. “If Essex get 200 lead, we’re done for.” Much nodding assent ensued. Interesting we thought. Dan Lawrence added a patient 62 to his overnight score of 9, and with support from Foster and Harmer Essex were finally dismissed for 275.
Worcester, with a day and a half left in the game required 215 for their first victory of the season. “We’re done for.” Said the cheery bloke behind me again. And, as it turned out he was right. The Pears having got to 160-5 had got themselves into a decent position, the locals had almost broken into a wave of mild optimism. Travis Head had got to a half-century. Barnard had been providing decent support, but it became clear Harmer was increasingly bamboozling him. He concluded that his best chance was to sweep Harmer, conventionally or reverse it didn’t matter. On each occasion, he swiped and missed, and despite consistent advice from the home faithful to resist, he cocked a deaf ‘un, and was bowled round his legs.
Siddle, on his farewell game for Essex was bowling beautifully from the other end, too quick for the lower order batsmen who twitched and groped relentlessly as another ball whizzed past the outside edge. It was not going to be a long stay of execution, however. Essex had Worcester at 173-8, with the last two men in, both we were gloomily assured were rabbits. Somehow they need to keep Head on strike to have a sniff. Essex decided to test the mettle by offering the rabbit an easy single at the end of each over to keep them on strike. Remarkably, they obliged on every occasion. Travis Head meanwhile, far from managing the situation seemed either resigned to his fate or had more faith in his partners’ abilities than anyone else in the ground. With nine down, Head decided attack was the only form of defence and promptly holed out. Worcester had lost their last five wickets for 22 runs, 182 all out. “Bloody told yer.” said the bloke behind. Harmer and Siddle both took five wickets, a nice way for the Aussie to sign off. We decided we should go to the Plough to celebrate.
So, if you are thinking of going to Worcester do so. Nice enough town, tremendous pub, lovely old cricket ground, and just as importantly in all that the locals were as friendly and welcoming a bunch as you could find. Apart from the woman in the Indian restaurant with more tattoos than a boatload of pirates. Some cabaret she was, although I don’t think the management had booked her.
Last Monday 26th June 2017 another piece of cricket history was made with the first round of the pink ball Day/Night County Championship matches, with play scheduled to start at 2pm and finishing at 9pm (with a cut off time of 10pm).
There were two main reasons why the ECB wanted to introduce these pink ball day/night County Championship matches:
I am a longstanding member of Essex CCC and the following is my experience and thoughts after attending Essex v Middlesex at Chelmsford.
Typical of the English summer the previous week had seen unbroken sunshine, blue skies and temperatures of 30C+ in Essex, however by the time of this game the weather was changing and becoming unsettled. The first day was played in reasonable weather, however the temperature dropped significantly in the evening, which may be the reason for some spectators leaving at the beginning of the last session.
With the game being played at the end of June, this meant a late sunset, so the floodlights only took effect during the last hour of play. During the period where the natural light fades and the floodlights begin to take effect, it was difficult for spectators to follow the pink ball, especially when a boundary shot was played along the ground across the outfield, in fact there were several occasions that I thought the fielder had prevented the boundary.
Although the Essex opening attack of Jamie Porter and Mohammed Amir (making his debut for Essex) looked dangerous the theory that the pink ball would swing during the evening sessions did not materialise and indeed the Essex spinner Simon Harmer was the danger man taking 5 wickets for 77 runs in the Middlesex first innings, with the visitors dismissed 246.
It was a good first day county championship crowd (with crowds up by around 25 to 30% from the previous home game against Warwickshire with the attendance reported at 2,200). However it was disappointing that the additional early evening after work spectators did not materialise, although it was encouraging to see more 20 to 30 year old spectators amongst the crowd (but unfortunately very few school children).
As mentioned the weather forecast was for an unsettled and cool week and despite best efforts play was abandoned on the second day at 6.50pm due to steady rain.
The third days play started on time with the floodlights on, under grey skies with drizzle in the air. It was also cold (only around 12 degrees in the evening), not exactly conducive to watching cricket, hence the smallish crowd. Amazingly we had a full day’s play (with 104 overs, to make up some lost time from the previous day). Essex enjoyed a dominant day with the bat as Alastair Cook and Nick Browne shared a record opening stand of 373 (beating the previous Essex record of 316 set in 1994) and this was followed by an entertaining quick century by Varun Chopra, putting Essex in a commanding position. This raised an interesting and surprising statistic that Cook has never scored a first-class double century for Essex, his highest score being 195 and making 193 on this occasion.
The fourth days play started with the usual rules in terms of when lunch and tea were to be taken and a minimum of 16 overs in the last hour with play finishing at 9pm. The weather was again overcast, although brighter and warmer. It was a very reasonable last day County Championship crowd, which was probably to do with a potential win for Essex and it was good to see some early evening after work spectators come into the ground with the attendance being around 1,200!
We were treated to some compelling and exciting cricket during the last session of play. Once Compton had been removed for a heroic potential match saving innings of a 120, Middlesex proceeded to collapse losing their last five wickets for ten runs, losing the match by an innings and 34 runs. Thanks largely to an unbelievable bowling performance by spinner Simon Harmer taking 9 wickets for 95 runs during the Middlesex second innings, plus some bold tactics by ‘Tendo’ the Essex captain. The Essex victory was achieved at around 8.57pm just about three minutes from close of play!
Following the game it was mooted that the pink ball becomes softer but did offer more bounce for the spin bowlers.
I consider the success (or failure) of pink ball day/night county championship matches to be inconclusive. I would like to see another round of games played next season, completed later in the summer and during the school holidays, firstly to ensure a proper day/night scenario and hopefully school children will come along. I also would like to see the county clubs encourage more spectators to come along by including some additional features such as BBQ food, live music during the intervals and youngsters taking part in All Stars cricket during the intervals plus some freebies for the youngsters from the ECB etc.
Of course good weather is essential to the success and enjoyment to any watching and playing any game of cricket. There is, as we all know, no guarantee of that in an English summer!
Written by Kevin Watts (Essex CCC Member)
The question occupying the minds of county followers, as we travel into a new season of the Royal London One-Day cup, is whether or not the dumbing down of 50-over domestic cricket, and its confinement to the margins of the summer, will foster an environment where the format is allowed to reach fever pitch. More and more these days, in an age where the mindset of fans has quite evidently shifted in favour of high-octane run chases and off-field theatrics, 50-over cricket is being led off the edge of a cliff by those who wish it no longer existed. Each summer, now spring it appears, domestic one-day cricket makes administrators sweat and keeps them awake long into the night. They are aware that it is no longer the zeitgeist, nor is it the style of cricket that will have the fan, overfed by the intoxicating taste of t20 cricket, on their knees begging for more. And so, profit margins take a hit. The ECB, money orientated as they are, cross their fingers, say a prayer, and hope that the losses incurred by the friendless 50-over format will not cause irreparable damage to their hip pocket.
While one-day domestic cricket is now dependent on the shortest form for its very survival, it is also the one sending it towards a premature death. It has been forced to take up residence in spring not because it is undergoing a rebirth, but because its little brother is experiencing a growth spurt that demands more time and space to run its course. This process requires greater parental attention from the ECB, the by-product of which so often leads to the neglect of the sibling who was once the centre of attention. But times change. Media mogul Kerry Packer brought the gift of limited overs cricket, white balls, coloured clothing and floodlit matches into the world, and these are now the very ingredients that have laid the foundations for a new empire, with some minor tweaks. If the English clone of the Big Bash does indeed grow to the levels that the ECB expects of it, and the Royal London One-Day cup is all that is left as a lesser, black and white style alternative to colour television, we may witness the kind of slow degradation of 50-over cricket that has seen it become somewhat redundant down-under.
In Australia, domestic one-day cricket has been stripped back to its bare essentials and is firmly entrenched in the shadow of t20 cricket, which continues to increase its coverage, extending as it is now beyond the realms of four-day cricket. It too has been forced to take place while the other major sporting codes are in full throttle, leaving it little to feed off both financially and logistically. It is hiding away from the major television stations on a channel formed to show cheaply produced overseas entertainment programs is a sign of its worth to both the viewer and CA. Rarely is it played at international venues either. That became an unnecessary expense some four years ago, around the same time CA decided it was best that the ODC be played in a block so to not detract from the main event.
The ODC was given a shiny new exterior in 2010 to bring it into line with cricket's new era. At this stage, the competition was still spread across the summer, giving it exposure to the informed cricket fanatic and the novice looking for a live sport to fill the off-season void. The innings of both sides were split into segments of 20 and 25 overs, effectively giving the spectator two t20 games to enjoy. This concept would fail to catch on though and was in part responsible for the woes Australia faced later that year at the Cricket World Cup, where they only narrowly avoided the humiliation of missing out on a quarter-finals berth. CA responded swiftly the following year, returning the domestic one-day competition to its original setup. But with interest in the fifty over format outside of international cricket on the wane, and the new Big Bash League featuring eight new city-based teams proving a hit with fans, the ODC was reformed for the third time in as many years. At the renegotiating of the television rights in 2013, it was agreed between the broadcaster and CA that the number of games played during the competition would be reduced, most likely to cut costs and that it would also be played across a two and a half week period during October. In this moment, the ODC was given an expiry date and funeral plans were arranged. Now the future seems bleak.
The signs are all there that the Royal London One-Day cup is heading down this hazardous road. Already it has been pruned to 8 matches per side and starved of the summer's limelight. One can only wonder how on earth it will manage to squeeze in amongst the wall-to-wall t20 action that will take place when the circus begins in 2020; a year that will see two tournaments run in close proximity to each other. As supporters of county cricket, this should come as a major disappointment. The one-day final at Lord's is a part of the fabric of county cricket. Yet we stand a chance to lose this history if the shortest format is allowed to spread like wildfire, without control and destroying everything in its wake. T20 cricket is a necessary 'evil' in England because it is falling behind the other countries and missing the gravy train. Every sport has its limit though; the point at which the race is extended from an 800-metre sprint to a 5-kilometre marathon, tiring the fans and maybe even losing a few along the way. Cricket in the 21st century is about balance. Without it, the game is a meaningless progression of franchise tournament to bilateral test series. 50-over and four-day cricket give the game character at all levels. The shortest format is simply a rich uncle giving out $100 dollar handouts at Christmas time to supplement the mediocre income of a struggling relative, allowing them to stand on their own two feet.
It's a shame these circumstances have come about because innings like Van der Merwe's on Saturday need to be seen and celebrated more than they currently are. Only the one-day format allows a run-chase to ebb and flow in the same fashion as Somerset's did. There is simply no time in t20 cricket to recover from 5-22, and twenty overs will seldom see a batsman walking in at number seven score an unbeaten 165. Chances are we'll see something just as remarkable in the weeks leading up to the Lord's final. The question is, who will care to remember these occasions when t20 cricket jazzes things up and becomes the measuring stick by which every performance is judged? Certainly not the new cricketing audience that travels for the undercard and misses the main bout. They are preoccupied with the novelties of t20 cricket and the gung-ho approach to game-play that makes it far more palatable. But they are also essential to the growth and development of the game at all levels, and administrators hope that they can be converted to fans of the other formats as easily as they were brought into the game. That is little consolation though for the one-day game at domestic level, which is currently on life support and is most likely to be the first casualty in this bitter war between the institutionalised and cricket's own hippie movement. T20, it seems, comes at a cost. Whether that be a high-profile player walking away from their national side to join the globetrotting elite, or the longer formats' nose-diving in popularity. There is, and will always be, a price to pay.
For now, at least, we can bask in the glory of a summer that hasn't yet seen 50-over cricket shoved into the basement and reserved for a small window in between, or before, the championship and the two t20 leagues. Unfortunately, it is the weakest link at both domestic and international level and will continue to fade from existence with every passing summer. This year, however, is filled with hope and optimism for the one-day format. The Champions Trophy will, for a few weeks in June, put a stop to all other competitions, allowing it to recapture the glory of yesteryear when it was the prized possession of cricket boards. What this means for the popularity and re-emergence of the format at domestic level remains to be seen. But if crowds flock to the games like they did so four years ago when Dhoni led his men to a resurgent victory over the hosts at Edgbaston, we can safely assume that one-day cricket still has a pulse, albeit a faint one, that can in some way be transferred to the county circuit. Never before has a decade been so crucial to the long-term health of cricket's original trendsetter. What will be its legacy?
By Jordan Crick (Cricky_1997 on Twitter)
3/16/2017 0 Comments
It has been seven months since the counties voted in favour of a franchise style t20 tournament that will revolutionise and reconfigure the cricketing landscape in England forever. Over this period, the debate around its feasibility has not subsided and the repercussions are suddenly being felt as we travel into a new season that will for the last time, it seems, go uninterrupted by t20 cricket played until the cows come home.
At present, this competition - its groundwork, its structure and how it plans on selling itself to the out-of-favour counties, but more importantly, the fans - is still very much an unknown. What we are certain of is that chairman Colin Graves, who has envisaged the many financial benefits and growth opportunities that a city-based t20 tournament can bring the ECB since he first laid eyes on the Big Bash, is fed up with being the black sheep of the cricketing world; operating a t20 league with little appeal to both fan and player. The ECB, Graves, Strauss and Harrison now have their foot in the door following that grim evening in the Lord's Long Room that, to this day, threatens to tear at the fabric of English cricket and divide the counties into two distinct categories – the powerhouses and the financially unstable.
Around the time the counties voted in favour of the radical changes to t20 cricket in England by a margin of 16 to 3, Graves was accused of a conflict of interest involving his family trust and Yorkshire County Cricket Club, who owed over £18 million to the organisation in October last year. Earlier that month, Durham were handed a penalty for failing to pay back the 7.5 million pounds worth of debt that the ECB themselves are in part responsible for. Many believed the punishment didn't fit the crime and the unanimous cries of fans that protested against Durham's treatment served as the ultimate proof. But one overriding theme endured - Durham would be playing in the Second Division in 2017 with little hope of returning to the top flight for at least the next few years thanks to the wrongdoings of the ECB.
First, there was the Chester-le-street stadium that the ECB recommended be built away from any other major landmarks, and urban hot spots, in a town with a population of just over 25,000 on the last count. Not only does this make little business sense as far as getting fans to attend the ground is concerned - which they are essentially relying on to increase cash flow and cover the construction costs - but it also shows how unreliable and self-orientated the ECB are when it comes to providing financial advice to the administrators of small counties. Which is interesting when you consider that those counties are, if not in the traditional sense of the word, a member of the ECB and the financial decisions they make have flow on effects for English cricket.
Then there was the scheduling of test matches and other international events spanning right back to just after the 2013 Ashes test held at the ground. And this is where Graves' conflict of interest begins to take shape. Last year, Chester-le-street held a test match between England and Sri Lanka - a game best remembered for Alastair Cook's milestone surpassing innings - to which few fans attended, leaving Durham to lick their wounds, cut their losses and, you’d suspect, reach out to the ECB for financial support. Only three test matches have been held at the ground since 2009 and this trend is set to continue following the ECB’s decision to strip Chester-le-street of test match status as an add on to their already harsh punishment, leaving Durham with one single source of revenue that will likely originate at domestic level, not international. It also remains unlikely that Chester-le-street will host any Cricket World Cup matches featuring full-member nations, given that it will have little funds available to outbid the well-endowed counties. This has left Durham with but one option to break the cycle of debt without falling into further trouble - accept the ECB's terms and buy into whatever get out of jail free enterprise they are offering.
Compare the treatment of Durham to Yorkshire, for in which Colin Graves has helped out during times of financial stress, and the conflict of interest concerns become blatantly apparent. Headingley has held test matches year in, year out for as long as I can remember and have almost always featured the likes of India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. These high profile nations attract crowds of significant size, generate greater revenue, and thus allow the big counties to make a profit, not haemorrhage money in the way Durham and Hampshire do when they cannot cover the operating costs involved in staging a test due to the quality of opposition. And by awarding Headingley with a test match each year, not to mention the occasional ODI or international t20 match, Graves is able to increase the speed at which the repayments are made to the Graves Family Trust by Yorkshire. To top this off, the ECB have also been accused of an uneven distribution of funds.
Bearing the above in mind, there can be no question as to why the smaller counties such as Durham have voted in favour of a city based t20 competition. It is the only way they foresee an escape from the crippling cycle of debt that will affect their county on the field as much as will off it. They really had no other option but to jump on board the good ship ECB, that played a starring role in their demise, and ride it into the sunset in the hope that it may bring them some kind of financial security and see them return to the first division of the championship free of a burdening salary cap that immediately places them at the back of the field. But it could well be an empty promise if the re-branding sees fund distribution reach another extreme.
A colleague, visiting Australia from England, more specifically Kent, once told me that a Big Bash style competition couldn't work in the old country because, quite simply speaking, it is not Australia; it has 18 counties that must all be represented, not six states. His logic, while simplistic and based solely on opinion, rang true. In this revenue driven cricketing economy the fan often goes unconsidered or is there simply for the purpose of monetization. Whether he/ she wants to see their county, and the championship, put on the back burner for the sake of a domestic t20 tournament bereft of context is often dismissed by the ECB, but it is a factor that must be considered if they want franchise cricket to strike a chord with the English public. The fan is their most important asset and ultimately decides whether it goes up in smoke or gains traction like it has in other parts of the world.
Australia expanded its Big Bash competition from six states to eight franchises six years ago, with each state having at least one team for which the local fans could follow. Since then it has not dared look back. Queensland, for example, is represented by the Brisbane Heat. NSW by either the Syndey Thunder, if you live in the western suburbs or the Sydney Sixers if you hail from the city. No state goes unrepresented, or stadium unused, and the expansion has in many ways covered more ground than it might have lost. The revenue has of course increased, but it is equally distributed amongst the states given that the franchises are not privately owned as they are in the IPL.
The ECB, with their city based competition, are essentially condensing the playing field and cutting off its blood supply when it should be doing the exact opposite. It isn't modelling itself of Australia at all. If it was to follow the Big Bash’s blueprint, Cardiff wouldn't be representing Somerset because, not only are they separate entities, but its fans have never had an allegiance with Glamorgan, where Cardiff would likely play the majority, if not all of their matches. So why should we expect them to start now?
I've long been an advocate for the t20 competition remaining in its current form with some slight remodelling, and if the initial plans to run the two tournaments in quick succession does indeed eventuate, I might just get my wish. But it would be ignorant to suggest that both will operate swimmingly alongside each other without conflict caused by a competition for supporters and sponsorships. When one features the counties and the other cities - potentially giving one county more exposure and allowing them to operate independently - there is bound to be some friction as far as revenue sharing is concerned. If Manchester, for example, was to become one of the new city-based teams in the lets call it 'Super Slog’, taking players only from Lancashire and playing their home games at Old Trafford, would this not upset the balance and ratio of revenue distribution? Why not continue calling them the Lancashire Lightning?
If all counties are equal stakeholders and receive the same amount of money from television rights, sponsorship etc, then fair game. But this seems like an unrealistic expectation. Manchester would play games at Lancashire's home ground, receive the windfall from ticket, merchandise and food sales, and the other counties wouldn't see the light of day because the revenue would be divided up among one county. They would also take many of the current England stars playing for Lancashire – the likes of Jos Buttler and James Anderson - and reap the extra benefits from that, leaving the other city franchises, comprised of multiple counties, to fight among themselves for an even distribution of the revenue that would, more often than not, lie with the dominant county - Hampshire if Southampton was to be made up of Sussex and also Kent as The Cricketer has suggested in the past.
The ECB simply would not be able to police or enforce an even distribution of funds when so much is generated by the counties that have access to test match venues, and as such, are the most likely candidates to house one of the new city based teams. Not to mention that a few of these counties will have an entire franchise to themselves, giving them the perfect opportunity to grow their brand while the others are left in the dark. All of this big county favouritism is extremely unsettling and shows that the ECB are handing out special treatment in the knowledge that these counties are the major players as far as the generation of revenue is concerned. This in itself could lead to a seismic shift in the balance of power amongst the counties that would likely cause irreparable damage to the way we currently understand domestic cricket.
The Blast would stick around for a few years following the launch of a city-based tournament, but if it was to be hidden behind a paywall, as it has been for a number of years, and the franchise tournament took off abroad as well as at home, it would die a painful, yet swift death. The ECB would likely push for an expansion meaning extra games are played throughout the year, leaving no time for the Blast to take place. It's happening in Australia already and there is a push for extra teams to be added to both increase revenue and raise the value of television rights. Oh, and to reach more rural areas in the hope of getting kids involved in cricket. This is something the Big Bash does extremely well.
We mustn’t underestimate the effects a city-based league would have on the longevity and popularity of the County Championship either. With players flying in and out of one city and into another to take the field for their franchise, there is the possibility that those particular players, possibly key members of their respective sides, could miss entire games. Apart from bitter feuds between the counties, franchises and the ECB, this has the potential to weaken a county side to the point of relegation from the first division, and you can hardly expect the fans to take notice of the Championship if their team’s best players aren’t on the park and struggling to win games as a direct result.
Then there’s the issue of scheduling and the reduction of Championship fixtures if the t20 juggernaut takes off in England like it has done elsewhere. What would Graves be inclined to do when one competition is heavily outweighing the popularity of the other? Reduce its size of course. Just like the BCCI has done in India.
There would be a few losers if these circumstances were to arise but the biggest would undoubtedly be the English test side. Keaton Jennings and Haseeb Hameed were discovered in the Championship last year and found themselves on a plane to India soon after. They were fine additions to the England side and will likely take over from Cook as England’s opening pair when father time catches up with the journeyman. But if the breeding grounds to foster young players are no longer in place or dropping in quality, finding future test cricketers becomes increasingly difficult.
The ECB have plenty to weigh up before they make a decision that has the potential to change more than just a few team names and logos. Imagine a world in which Sussex, Leicester and Hampshire played in an entirely different league to Yorkshire and Lancashire; with its own independent board and separate scheduling. Now think about how this would affect the Championship or the One Day cup in their current form as well as English cricket at large because it just might pan out this way if the ECB lets financial status dictate whether a county has to operate in conjunction with rival clubs, or independently.
By Jordan Crick - @Cricky_1997
Inconsistency has plagued Yorkshire’s quest to achieve a three-peat of championship crowns in 2016, as they continue to cling on to their position in the middle of the division one table by the skin of their teeth.
They say a strong Yorkshire makes for a strong England. While many whisper sceptically behind their hands, condemning any such theory, the burden of the old cliché – dated as it might be - weighs heavy on the shoulders of the playing group this season.
We’ve been reminded during this unsunny summer that sheer weight of expectations is a significant encumbrance not to be brushed aside. Before a ball had been bowled in anger during April, we were told in no uncertain terms that there was no stopping the might of Yorkshire, who were bound for yet another year of unbridled successes.
Au contraire. How four months, a coin toss and a few unanticipated departures can unhinge a perfectly architected yellow brick road. It now appears Yorkshire’s deep-seated winning culture has inexplicably gone to the dogs - or at the very least - hit a significant bump in a long and winding road.
Yorkshire are not directionless, but they are at this stage in a marathon season rooted to the spot on the Championship table with a formidable run home – one that includes a visit to Lord’s and Old Trafford. With Root, Balance, Bairstow and Rashid all away on England duty until at least the final round, it is left to a patchwork side to pick up the slack that flagged somewhere around mid-May.
Had it not been for some pesky South-East weather intervening on a strong Yorkshire performance against Surrey at the Oval, they might well have been able to add a win to their season tally of 116, potentially positioning them inside the top 4. But there’s no point dwelling at this point on what could have been.
All is far from lost for Yorkshire though. While they face a torrid time dealing with injury that constantly attempts to access permanent residency in the Yorkshire ranks, the likes of Leaning, Hodd and Rhodes will be asked to step up to the plate and toe the line through August and September for the defending champions.
The new toss regulations appear to have taken their toll on Yorkshire’s bowling, while their batting, led by messiah’s Lyth and Lees, consistently fluctuates between two extremes - breathtakingly brilliant and unequivocally vulnerable. A proclivity to inspire and frustrate fans in the same session is an inconsistency that must be addressed. Too often have Bresnan and Plunkett been called on to do the heavy lifting down the bottom of the order.
Their bowling performances have laid the foundations for their successes in years gone by, but the scrapping of the coin toss this season has seen Yorkshire struggle to win outright. This issue is not isolated, it is very much a competition wide epidemic brought about by flat, lifeless wickets prepared in the knowledge that the opposition side mustn’t profit from their decision on the first morning. So much so that the toss has turned into a game of Russian roulette for the foolhardy.
Yorkshire’s bowlers have toiled for days on end at stages this season, powerless to arrest fluent strokeplay, as batsmen fill their boots and plunder runs to all parts of the ground with ease. Their only reprieve from a 150-over graft, a sporting declaration from the opposition captain.
It should come as no surprise then to find that Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale was among the first to speak his mind on the new toss regulations upon their unveiling in November last year. His statement was brief but insightful: “[no mandatory toss is] Absolute madness”.
Surrey captain Gareth Batty shared a similar sentiment towards the ensuing anarchy of the new toss regulations that saw his team chase leather in the field for 210-overs this week. He too was blunt in his appraisal of the current state of pitches around the country, labelling them - rather crudely I might add - as being “very flat” in nature. This statement may have been somewhat tongue in cheek, though, given that Batty was fresh from a trailblazing game that included an unbeaten hundred and eight wickets.
But I shan’t harp on about these toss regulations any longer.
Yorkshire’s Blast form is bordering on farcical, though, their mad cap style has struggled to bear fruit since even the early days of the Twenty-Twenty Cup. The absence of their England players during the period when the Sri Lankan ODI series was taking place hasn’t helped their cause either.
Any hope of a journey to Edgbaston for finals day now appears bleak, with just a handful of fixtures – and therefore opportunities - remaining in the 2016 edition. But optimism and desire so often prevail in this whimsical game we call cricket. To sneak into the top four and progress beyond the North group stage they must win their final two games, and while they’re at it, muster a genie from a bottle to grant an indelible wish. Very rarely do six wins qualify a side for the quarter-finals.
Yorkshire’s Blast campaign for 2016 has all but met its maker.
Their Royal London One-Day Cup season started in the worst possible fashion, with a big loss to Worcestershire in a television game at Leeds. Since that dreary summer’s day, where their one-day season looked destined to follow suit, Yorkshire’s fortunes have experienced a dramatic revival. Back to back wins have them perched inside the top three and within striking distance of the unbeaten Derbyshire.
A last start rout of rivals Lancashire whose batting innings ended inside 18-overs - only Martin Guptill surpassed single figures - will give them the momentum they require to begin the march towards Lord’s. The RLODC is the one competition they look primed to win, but with the halfway point of the season having only just been reached, a large majority of the plot still remains. I’d be jumping the gun making any bold predictions at this point in the journey.
Written by Jordan Crick (@Cricky_1997)
The red and gold pastels of an unprepossessing RCB away strip are seen wandering the verdant alleyways of Bangalore as the sun descends on yet another scorching summers evening. The orangey-pink hues of a dirt stain sustained in a last gasp dive for the crease on ninety-nine contrasts the golden lion of the RCB crest. All the while, Kohli raises his bat for the third time in as many games. The BCCI basks in all its glory, roping in excess of 1,194 crores from the IPL cash cow that has transfixed a nation.
KP, mic’d up, fresh from a stint in the Caribbean Premier League, becomes a clairvoyant to an enraptured national audience of 1.3 million by predicting the line and length of a Gurinder Sandhu delivery, before promptly depositing it into the densely populated mid-wicket stands of Australia’s coliseum, the MCG.
The naysayers of the T20 format have long scoffed at its ability to flaunt itself around the international market with unwavering success. The palpable atmosphere emanating from the hoarse diaphragms of forty-thousand frenzied Indian cricket diehards inside the M.Chinnaswamy Stadium on IPL finals day is exclusive of franchise fandom, and representative of t20’s success. A county side is seldom exposed to such ebullient support that its excellent standard deserves.
While the twenty-twenty cricket product appears to have reached the summit, capturing the hearts and minds of those most malleable – chiefly children and adolescents - England’s premier T20 competition continues to meander along with subdued significance, yet to tap into the successes of franchise cricket. But is this the route the T20 ‘blast’ should follow?
Does the current format require a total revamp? Does the rich history of English cricket embed fans with a refined palate that rejects T20 cricket? How can viewer apathy be improved?
These are the questions that must be asked by the powers that be on the English Cricket Board. The ‘blast’ must cease resting on its laurels if it is to awaken from a slumber that has seen it slip five-years behind a thriving pack. T20 is the profit centre for cricketing boards worldwide, yet the current tournament has well and truly missed the boat of financial nirvana. As it stands, the ‘blast’ lies on shaky foundations, whose rotting is the result of something far from the perceived fan reproof.
Perhaps the ECB are not buoyed by the same imperatives as the BCCI, namely revenue. For this, it should be admired. Money hungry boards are the foibles of cricket’s enduring character. Though, a competition based on privatised franchises – serving the county game its own commercial value - is like dangling a carrot in front of a board who is owed a combined £7.8 million from the counties, which is exactly the case.
Therein lies the confliction; county prestige and the greater good of the game vs. commercial appeal, garnered from a city-centric based competition.
For all intensive purposes, the pros of a franchise-based competition offers a cornucopia of benefits for the county game. But English cricket is a special case. It places more value, more merit in domestic cricket than any of its cross-country colleagues. Straying from its roots – which predate the 18th century – would prompt a crisis of significance for the domestic competition as the counties stare down the malignant glare of the new kids on the block. A misalignment of expectations between the three formats will leave the summer of cricket with emphasis on its shortest form. An oversight of such proportions would see one-day and championship cricket gasping for air in an environment bereft of oxygen. Australia’s witnessed it, so has India and New Zealand. The last recorded attendance of the Sheffield Shield in the 2011/12 summer saw a total of 4,809 people through the gates. More concerning was the One Day Domestic competition’s figure of 4,033 (total) in 2015/16. Dwindling attendance happens to align itself with the beginning of the Big Bash. Coincidence? Perhaps. It’s an issue that continues to confound the most ignorant eye.
Yet maybe this trend is indicative of cricket’s 21st-century forecast – a world dominated by the shortest form – and hence, should be unduly embraced.
The championship’s viewership figure in the summer of 2015, 513,000, attests the need for the ECB to conform to its current T20 format - with the implication of vast remodelling to raise attendance – so not to distract heavily from the championship. A city-based competition would momentarily amuse, before shuddering down to earth with a resounding clatter.
Perhaps most importantly, though, it must avoid the well-trodden path that has seen Australia’s Shield competition wistfully slip down the drain of inferiority through taking a reluctant backseat to the Big Bash. It’s not out of line to state that England’s domestic competition can achieve a kind of attendance parity across all formats if it resists its city-based entity.
So where does that leave us? Last year's T20 Blast finals day produced the worst viewing audience since the competitions inception in 2003. Just 388,000 people parked themselves in front of the TV to watch the tournaments flagship event. Clearly that’s a message that the ethos of the blast is failing to sink in. So how does a jetlagged competition improve without stepping into the T20 twilight zone that is franchise cricket?
The short answer – high profile international players. Fans crave the battles of T20 that have them leaving the stadium with bated breath. Their appetite should be fed with an influx of international talent, serving two obligatory purposes: A.) Enhancing the blasts international and local appeal and B.) exposing England’s future stars to superlative cricketing craftsmen, thus enhancing their skills.
Take the game between Sussex and Somerset last week for example. On a ground that embodies the culture of county cricket, Hove, the indisputable hitting talents of Chris Gayle were tasked with taking down the searing pace of the now T20 specialist, and England hopeful, Tymal Mills. 90mph against a man, proclaimed ‘world boss’, whose sole purpose it seems is to send bowlers back to the team hotel with nightmares. An X-Factor that’s seen him amass some 2335 runs as a freelance T20 cricketer.
These battles rouse the fan base. Though, eighteen counties playing in one competition spreads the spattering of international cricketers particularly thin, meaning some counties are bereft of an import causing a gap between the standards of the sides.
Though it’s far from the only global T20 competition guilty of this, length is an inherent downfall of the ‘blast’. A tournament played over three months quickly becomes fatigued, failing to peak the zeal of the fan throughout the competitions entirety, consequently depriving the points table of meaning and significance until the finals roll around. The Blast morphs into the first day of a championship match than into the one-day cup before a rampant, English Test side subsequently diverts the interests of the cricketing fraternity. This issue has been duly addressed by the ECB, with the 2017 edition of the Blast played over two months during the school holidays. Even then, the typically hyped clashes must take precedence to clone overseas franchise success without losing sight of their heritage; the battle of the roses at an overpopulated, rambunctious Old Trafford or Middlesex-Surrey at Lord’s. The Big Bash has recently found success from its contrived intra-city franchise rivalry, aptly named the ‘Melbourne derby’. 80,000 fans saw an encounter between the two sides at the MCG just last year.
Franchise cricket doesn’t fit the bill as far as county cricket is concerned. The blast will develop through improved scheduling, exposure and international player endorsement.
Views by Jordan Crick (@cricky_1997)
5/14/2016 0 Comments
England's recent squad announcement was not as far fetched as it could have been – the rumoured call-up for Nick Browne didn't materialise but the inclusion of Jake Ball and James Vince did raise eyebrows. Along with that pair, Nick Compton has retained his position from the tour to South Africa despite not setting the world alight either then, or this season in the County Championship. Let's have a look at these three, and what they can bring to the England team.
Nick Compton has had a poor start to the season, the Middlesex man averages only 20 and is yet to make a fifty. It is no question he offers solidarity at number three and at times during the South Africa tour he steadied ship and rode out the innings' against a difficult attack to face – attritional to say the least. But it would be fair to say that with the poor form Compton has shown this season that he did not deserve this call-up – one only has to look at the top of Middlesex order to see another England candidate showing the selectors what they want. Sam Robson has scored a double century and two other centuries and has really put his teammate to shame. Nonetheless, Compton can be a handy number three – with the stroke playing of Alex Hales often not bearing fruit Compton's battling style can really impress. He has faced serious criticism for his style, however, scoring slowly and perhaps letting the team fall behind the game at times – and who wouldn't prefer to see Kevin Pietersen walk out, all guns blazing and send countless drives to the boundary. Hopefully, we see the best of Compton against Sri Lanka, and it would be safe to say that some decent performances may not even be enough to cement his place.
James Vince's long-awaited call-up did not come as a shock to many; at times for Hampshire, it has seemed a one man team, he has had to dig his side out of a hole created by the early loss of wickets. But the grit he has seemed to show this season will be in fine place when he strides his way out to the crease at Headingley. Vince has all the attributes, a swanky array of shot play matched with the determination and guile that a number five needs to be a success at Test level. Vince's inclusion is definitely the least surprising out of the three eyebrow raising call-ups. While the Hampshire skipper has been lamented before for his tendency to get in and get out, he looks to have settled for a calmer approach to batting – which can see him accumulate scores rather than blasting his way to a quick 30. This season so far his strike rate is at only 46 is down from 60 last season and perhaps shows what steps Vince has taken to ensure he gets his England berth, and while that will be at his less favoured number five – his prospects surely are in good check for the summer ahead.
Jake Ball is the most shocking of the three “surprise” call-ups – his hard work at Nottinghamshire often falls under the radar, although clearly not with Trevor Bayliss. 2015 was an important year for Ball, he sealed his place in the Nottinghamshire first-class team and became a regular in the limited overs squads for the Outlaws, too. His potential had always been monitored, after several selections for England Lions squads, and his performances for the Lions must also have contributed to this selection. Ball is tall, but not Steven Finn – has a good action which leads to a repeatable line and length and enough pace to put to use at international level. His real breakthrough into the minds of England selectors must surely have come this season, he has been in fine form for Nottinghamshire. His 19 wickets have come at 21 and have included one five-for. His recent performance versus Yorkshire where he took the wickets of England capped Gary Ballance and then the man of the moment Joe Root in consecutive balls as well as forgotten man Adam Lyth with the first ball of the innings. Ball almost single-handedly turned that match in Nottinghamshire's favour – falling one wicket short of what would have been an impressive victory. And if there was a question over who should take that last remaining spot in the England squad at that point, Ball had made it his own. Hopefully, we get to see what Ball can bring to this team at Headingley – and we don't see the same fate that has befallen others before him; Chris Woakes, the unfortunate Mark Wood and Finn but to name a few. A hopefully injury-free Jake Ball can add something to this England team.
It will be an interesting series for the Three Lions' with fresh new faces set to tackle a Sri Lankan side that lacks the star players of yester-year this really acts as an opportunity for a Ball, a Vince or a Compton to really cement their place as an England regular.
Written by Charlie Jennings (@AVCJX)
There are indeed plenty of cases to make for Yorkshire to be the favourites for this year's County Championship title, however not much has been spoken about the outsiders; those who are less favoured to go all the way and topple the reigning champions. There are plenty of strong squads spread out across this year's Division One – Middlesex, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire all look set to contend and the recently promoted teams in Surrey and Lancashire will be sure to provide healthy challenge.
Let's first have a look at these contenders to the throne.
Middlesex certainly look set to be there or thereabouts this season – the addition of James Fuller from Division Two Gloucestershire looks shrewd, a man who has offered up genuine pace for Gloucestershire for the last five seasons, taking 89 wickets at 35, a very handy average to say the least. His pace offers Middlesex some decent options – although bowling has never really been a problem, the addition of Fuller adds yet more beef to their often injury affected pace attack. One problem Middlesex may face, especially during the early season – is the new toss (or not) rule put in place to give away teams the option of bowling first. During April and possibly May this advantage may do them some harm – everybody knows that conditions tend to favour swing bowling during the early season matches at Lord's. This offers up some interesting contests, with matches at home to Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire at HQ in early Spring, who both possess very strong bowling attacks.
Warwickshire have somewhat dwindled over the past couple of seasons, injuries and international call-ups have to an extent prevented the Bears from really putting in a full season's effort which has led to the club petering out come September. Hopefully, this season that will be put right, with Ian Bell and Chris Woakes currently not in the England team, but sure to be challenging for places – Warwickshire might just be the beneficiary of some early season performances to put their names in the hat. This could, however, lead to problems later on in the season – the management of their seam attack is crucial. It has some serious depth but sometimes seeing off the tail end of the opposition has caused a problem, not least in the first match of this campaign, versus Hampshire. Rikki Clarke, Keith Barker, Chris Wright, Boyd Rankin and Woakes himself look like an attack that many will envy. The batting also looks strong – Bell, Jonathan Trott, Sam Hain and Varun Chopra are all batsmen with a good reputation in the county game, Hain himself gains English citizenship after this County Championship season and could, with some good runs behind him, throw his name into the hat for an England call up.
Nottinghamshire always seem to put in a performance in the Championship, strength in their batting department is usually followed up with some decent bowling performances at the often swing-friendly Trent Bridge. One looks at their bowling attack and thinks perhaps they are lacking a little experience, Harry Gurney, Jake Ball and Brett Hutton do lack some experience – but raw talent is definitely on show and should hopefully come to the fore this season. Results can often be expected at Trent Bridge, and Nottinghamshire boast some real match winners in their team – Samit Patel's batting and useful left-arm spin often turns the screw; and while James Taylor's recent shock retirement will weaken their batting – the experience in their batting line-up provides the backbone to what should be a good campaign. The addition of Australian test-capped paceman Jackson Bird should prove a real capture too, at county level he should provide a real threat. Expect another decent season from Nottinghamshire.
Durham are my outside bet for this year's Championship; a very decent bowling attack supported by some very experienced and level-headed county professionals with the right mix of young talent could just provide Durham with the perfect balance to mount a challenge this season. Young Keaton Jennings has had a barnstorming start to the season with centuries in both innings versus Somerset, and this definitely could be the season he makes that opening position his own. Chris Rushworth and Graham Onions are a quality new ball pair – Rushworth will look to push on from his 83 wickets last term. While the Northerner's batting can be unreliable players like Jennings, Scott Borthwick – once capped by England, and the young up and coming Jack Burnham on their day can produce the goods that can propel Durham to what could be an unlikely success story. Again home comforts may be harder to come by for Durham this term due to the amended toss but one must surely back their bowling attack as one that should be looking to take 20 wickets regularly at home. After two seasons of consolidation since their glory year of 2013, Durham should be looking to push on and despite suffering financial constriction since that success, their young talent should be looking up rather than down this season.
This year's County Championship, to me, looks more unpredictable than some are touting. Yorkshire will certainly face a tough task to make it a hat-trick of titles, and with the competition certainly looking stronger than ever this we should have an exciting campaign in store. Here's to some fantastic cricket this season.
By Charlie Jennings - (@AVCJX)
No other cricket county have won the English domestic Championships more than Yorkshire, who have secured the title an unprecedented 33 times.
The White Rose start the 2016 campaign after back-to-back title winning seasons in 2014 and again in 2015, and the chance to secure a hat-trick of titles looms large for the club from the north of England.
A hat-trick of Championship titles in the modern era will be a huge achievement for England’s most dominant domestic side. They have, however, already achieved this feat four times, going on to win it four years in a row between 1922-1925. The longest streak, however, belongs to Surrey who held the Championship for seven years in a row from 1952 to 1958.
Yorkshire’s last hat-trick of titles was achieved way back in 1968 and after that the most successful club in England endured a long drought, winning the championship just once between 1968 and 2014. That victory came at the beginning of the century in 2001 and there was another 13-year wait before they won in again in 2014.
There can be little argument that over the last two seasons Yorkshire were deserving champions of England. The club lost just two games in the last two seasons. That level of consistency was the key to their success over the last two seasons.
Looking back to 2014, the Yorkshire squad had eight players who had played for England or went on to play for England in the last two years. The White Rose’s success has been rewarded with national selection for the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Gary Balance all of whom have made a name for themselves on the international stage. Indeed, six Yorkshire players featured in the 2015 Ashes victory. It was a true testament of how much the club had moved forward as a team and the players individually. The 2014 team also featured New Zealander Kane Williamson, who has since gone on to captain his country and has been one of the top batsmen in the world over the last two years. Both Joe Root and Kane Williamson have featured in the ICC World Test XI in both 2014 and 2015.
Yorkshire were eventually crowned champions of England in 2014 with a lead of 17 points over Warwickshire who finished second but had won the same number of games as Yorkshire, eight. Adam Lyth finished the campaign as the leading run scorer in the division and went on to open for England in the 2015 Ashes-winning campaign.
The 2015 season, however, was pretty one-sided with Yorkshire running away with it and eventually finishing the year 68 points ahead of second-placed Middlesex.
The campaign showed how the new defending champions were dominant in their trade; their record at home, Headingley, was almost perfect. They won seven of their eight matches there and drawing the other. Warwickshire were the only team to go away with more points than Yorkshire at their headquarters. They ended up with 11 points to the host’s nine in a game that ended as a draw.
The Vikings had not lost a game at Headingley in the season prior to 2015 but had only managed to win half of their games and drawing the rest. It changed in 2015 with the team producing some outstanding performances, notably the one in May in which saw them thump Hampshire by 305 runs. Thanks in part to one of their new international recruits, Cheteshwar Pujara. The Indian batsman had joined the team in 2015 and was part of their squad in the longer formats. Another notable international addition to the squad was the ex-Pakistani skipper Younis Khan who featured during the months of April and May.
Yorkshire begin this season as firm favourites, and some are even tipping them to win the domestic treble. But their captain Andrew Gale knows the task in hand will not be easy, and with so many of their regulars now part of the England squad the captain has backed the youngsters in the team to deliver the goods.
The 32-year-old is not worried about the lack of signings this season, though, with David Willey, the left arm England international the only new recruit. The club have also just retained the services of Kane Williamson for just two months, June and July. The only other international signed this season is Travis Head, the Australian will spend three months with the club from July to September.
"It just says panic stations, really, at this time of the year to go out and sign players," Gale told in one of his interviews with George Dobell for ESPNcricinfo.
"It's not something we want to do at Yorkshire. We back our own players. We put a lot of time and effort into our academy and we have a history of bringing players right though from grassroots to Test cricket and that's the route we will continue to go down.
"We missed six players at the start of last season but we don't see that as a negative. We embrace that. It creates an opportunity for someone else to come into the side. Lads see that opportunity and want to grasp it.
"We think the togetherness of the team and going out with as many Yorkshire men as we can give us an edge. There is a massive togetherness in that dressing room when players see the likes of Matthew Fisher and Will Rhodes grasp that opportunity. It creates a confidence in the young players that they could be the next cab off the rank. We want to continue to do that."
With the likes of Surrey and Lancashire coming up and sides like Warwickshire who are always there or thereabouts in the fight for the top spot, the odds of this season’s title charge being a one horse race are pretty slim, so it promises to be an exciting one.
"We're confident and positive," Gale added. "But we can take nothing for granted. We've won two Championships, but that counts for nothing at the start of the season. But if we win three championships in a row, we'll go down with the legends of Yorkshire cricket."
Writing their names in Yorkshire cricket folklore is a pretty good incentive for the team to go on to fight for the top spot again this season, will they do it? I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Written by Benny Singarajan - Follow him @mis4nthrope
With the English cricket season kicking off this weekend, we look at two Counties who are back plying their trade at the top level of the English domestic set-up.
Surrey were relegated from the Division One in 2013 and Lancashire who joined them in 2014 are back playing in the top tier after a stellar 2015 campaign saw both teams losing just once in the 16 games they played.
Lancashire who finished just 10 points behind Surrey had a lead of 54 points to Essex who finished third in the division. The table shows how these two teams ran away with the league and were suitably rewarded with a place back in the top tier.
Now the challenge during this new campaign will be to build on last year’s success and try to maintain their status as a top-flight team. With new regulations seeing two teams getting relegated and just one getting promoted it will be a monumental task for relegated teams to come back to the top tier right away.
Looking at these two teams, Surrey seem to be better equipped to deal with the demands and higher skill set required to stay in the top division in the country. The London team, have, though, lost one of its most talismanic figures in Kevin Pietersen, who scored 355*(396) against Leicestershire last May. Pietersen, who is already in India to take part in the latest edition of the Indian Premier League, played a key role at Surrey during his limited stay with the team last season.
This season despite the obvious loss, the team have made some shrewd acquisitions. The Division Two champions have brought in Mark Foottit from Derbyshire. The left-armed paceman enjoyed an impressive 2015 season finishing as the leading wicket-taker in the Division.
Alec Stewart, the director of cricket for Surrey confirmed in late March that Jade Dernbach is facing a lengthy lay-off from the game with a back problem. But, the signing of Ravi Rampaul from the West Indies as a Kolpak player has made the bitter news about Dernbach a bearable one.
Surrey though are blessed with the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, who will be available for the entire season as the overseas player. With Sangakkara amongst their ranks, the team has a good blend of youth and experience with the Curran brothers, Tom, and Sam. Tom who’s 21 and Sam who only turns 18 in June bring in the youthful exuberance a team needs. With the likes of Aaron Finch joining the team from June-July, Surrey may become a force to be reckoned with this season.
Lancashire, on the other hand, ended the 2015 campaign with four draws on the trot which was enough to see them finish second thanks mainly to their early season form. Unlike Surrey who have brought in some very good players after getting promoted, Lancashire have made no such signings.
The team based in Manchester have lost Ashwell Prince who has retired and Paul Horton moving to Leicestershire. The team, however, may get a few games out of the England international James Anderson whose limited overs international career is all but over. The chances of Jos Buttler another England international that featured in the recently concluded World T20 Championships are pretty bleak, however since the wicket-keeper batsman has already arrived in India to feature in the latest edition of the IPL.
Despite lacking some major names the core of the team has remained the same and it is still a relatively young side. Since winning the Divison One Championship in 2011 Lancashire have gone down twice but have bounced straight back to the top tier at the first time of asking. Their task won’t be as straightforward this time if they do go down with only one team to be promoted from Division Two from this season.
With both Surrey and Lancashire back in the top tier, some of the best domestic talent on showcase get to show their talents at iconic venues like the KIA Oval and the Emirates Old Trafford. The stadiums that feature regularly in England’s international calendar missed out on the best domestic competition in the country.
This season however with games between the northern rivals Lancashire and Yorkshire and the two London teams Surrey and Middlesex meeting in the top division are bound to bring in some decent crowds for a Championship game. With the rise of T20, the County Championship has seen a steady decline in the crowd numbers; the matches between these teams will provide some much-needed interest in the First-Class game.
The rise of these two teams makes it an exciting time for First-Class cricket in the country, with Yorkshire running away with the league for the last two years the rise of these two teams will make it a much more exciting Championship race.
Written by Benny Singarajan, Follow him on Twitter @mis4nthrope.
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