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North v South one-day series is the future of county cricket

Counties or franchises? Let’s discard both and instead play endless North v South matches.

Imagine the crowds. Nothing gets people in like a rivalry and this new series has the potential to divide the nation. They’ll have to properly define North and South first, but all it will take is a shibboleth. How do you pronounce ‘bath’? How do you pronounce ‘butter’?

The Southerners could wear top or bowler hats in the field. The Northerners would wear flat caps. Fans will adopt the same attire and there’ll be Gangs of New York style fighting in the streets.

Then the Aussies will come over and everyone will shake hands, apologise and boil the kettle, before settling down for a nice patronising snigger at the tourists’ increasingly rampant metrosexuality.

 

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What is a format-spanning points system for?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Last week we asked whether you would care if the Ashes included limited overs matches. This was slightly mischievous on our part because while the series could in theory be affected by the mooted system which would see points accrued across formats and an overall winner recognised, the truth is that no-one really wants to mess with the Ashes.

As far as the challenges facing Test cricket are concerned, the Ashes is not the canary in the mine. The Ashes is the one man with breathing apparatus in the mine. As Test series between India and Sri Lanka and South Africa and West Indies fall around him, England v Australia stands there solemnly, slightly perplexed by the death toll.

But – whisper it quietly – Test cricket is bigger than the Ashes. Or at least the sport would be better off if it were. It’s one of this site’s perhaps overfamiliar refrains that diversity is one of cricket’s greatest strengths and a major part of that is having more than two countries playing five-day matches with some degree of enthusiasm.

A subconscious negotiation?

Teams always want to win – players want to win every game – but when one team cares more about one format and the opposition cares more about another, you do sometimes get the sense that some sort of invisible subconscious deal takes place. A ‘you can have what you want if we can have what we want’ kind of thing.

It’s not in any way deliberate, but there are fine margins in top-level sport and it doesn’t take much to tip the balance one way or the other. If enthusiasm is a finite resource, how it is rationed can have a very real impact. Could bringing the formats together not offset that just a little?

Maybe not

If nothing else, there is no saying that anyone involved would buy into a format-spanning points system and if no-one cared, it would basically be worthless.

But what if people did care?

Consider an alternative scenario in which a nation historically inclined towards one-day cricket took the 50-over leg of a tour 4-1 and would ordinarily struggle to rouse itself for the Tests that followed. No side sets out to do this, but those piffling little two-Test series can sometimes appear hard to get up for, can’t they?

In this scenario, all the investment put into the one-dayers stands to be unravelled by a poor performance in the longer format. At eight points to two with ten points needed to win the tour and another eight points still available, players might just find extra motivation to try and win. It needn’t even be that. It could just be the will to fight for a draw at a point when previously they’d have been likely to write the match off as a loss. That might make for better cricket. It could also bring in a few extra fans keen to witness the tour decider.

Investment

Think of when you’ve invested time and effort in something. No-one likes to feel that’s wasted. It’s what keeps people playing Farmville long after it’s ceased to be fun. It’s what got Concorde built. For all that we’re supposed to lack commitment these days, human nature means people are naturally disinclined to cut their losses.

We’re not saying a points system is a cure-all. We’re not even saying it’ll work. But if there’s a chance that it could be a way of persuading people who care about short format cricket to also care more about Test cricket, we’re inclined to say that it’s worth giving it a whirl.

What’s the worst that could happen? That if it becomes popular and widely-adopted we might all start to question why the Ashes doesn’t follow the same format?

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A veritable smorgasbord of draws in the latest exciting instalment of the 2016 County Championship

This week’s matches varied incredibly. We had fraught, tense, hard-fought draws; ambling draws that were obvious from a mile out; and everything in between. The 2016 County Championship is not yet proving to be a competition in which people win cricket matches.

The fraught, tense, hard-fought draw

Yorkshire gamely went after a tough fourth innings target after Chris Read had gritted, nurdled and punched a hundred from number seven. In so doing, they almost capitulated. But they didn’t. It was a draw.

The other three matches

In Surrey v Durham, Ben Stokes took seven wickets on a pitch where 457 was followed by 607-7 and then 244-6. It’s not really worth paying attention to who made runs because it was basically everyone. The match finished in a draw.

We presume it rained during Hampshire v Middlesex. Both teams batted at three an over, made moderate totals, but ran out of time to resolve things. It was a draw.

Lancashire’s Liam Livingstone made a hundred in his second match after making 70 on his debut the other week. Sadly, even The Great Neil Wagner couldn’t prevent quadragenarian Somerset opener Marcus Trescothick from batting out the match in partnership with the youthful tricenarian, Chris Rogers.

Draw.

Ballwatching

Nottinghamshire were on telly this week, so we got to see a bit more of Jake Ball. Just as we suspected when we read that he was ‘the brisk side of fast-medium,’ he actually appears to be ‘resolutely fast-medium’.

This is okay though. He’s tall and appears to swing and seam it without flitting between good balls and toss ones, so he’s still got plenty going for him. We were hoping he’d have everything going for him, but we hope for a lot of things and almost none of them come to pass.

One time we hoped that there was still water in the kettle and there was. That’s the only positive outcome we can think of off the top of our head.

Highlight of the week

With each passing replay, we had less and less of an idea what the actual balls Jonny Bairstow did to a delivery from Stuart Broad on the final day of the Notts v Yorkshire match. Dropping down on one knee, he seemingly wrist-swept an offside wide through midwicket. For six.

It was a kind of flat-batted flamingo shot played with entirely immobile arms. How he propelled it beyond the ropes is entirely beyond comprehension.

This seems a bit of a wishy-washy doubt-filled way to end proceedings, so we’re instead going to try and add a more definitive note of finality by writing ‘the end’.

The end.

Except it isn’t, because you never said who was top of the table

Nottinghamshire. By a point from Warwickshire, who are two points ahead of Middlesex. Lancashire are a further point back but with a game in hand.

We knew we’d forgotten something. Doing the top-of-the-table thing is a good way to finish as well. We really are going to have to start remembering it before we first click ‘publish’.

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Alastair Cook in the second division of the County Championship

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We always say that the second division of the County Championship doesn’t count. Hopefully it’s obvious that this is rhetoric.

Our exaggerated stance is not borne of a belief that the cricket played is worthless, but of a perception that some still haven’t quite accepted that it is in any way a lower standard. The sport isn’t always swift on the uptake. When MCC voted on whether or not to allow female members in 1998, it took two votes before the ‘modernisers’ got their way.

We’ve had two divisions for almost as long, but there are still plenty of people who will cite a ‘first-class’ average when pushing the international case of a particular second division player. Alastair Cook has tried to put such figures in perspective so far this season. He has played four County Championship matches and only failed to make a hundred in the first of them, when he made 65 in his only innings.

At the time of writing, he is averaging 156. He is playing in the same match as Moeen Ali, who is averaging 210.

Cook is an exceptional individual, but it’s worth remembering this kind of thing the next time you read an article in which so-and-so’s said to be making waves after averaging 44 – or, more likely, after they’ve made a hundred during a season in which they’re not even averaging that.

Cook’s clearly seeing them well in the second division, so he’ll be hopeful of performing well when he returns to the nets with England.

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Would you care if the Ashes included limited overs matches?

Cricket was the real winner - but which format?

Ben Stokes would. Reacting to plans to implement a points system spanning the formats for cricket tours, he said: “I think it would be rubbish. They’ve changed a lot of things, but Ashes is Ashes, it’s a massive series for England and Australia and I don’t see why it should get changed.”

This rather overlooks the fact that pretty much all the other Test series he takes part in are anything but a big deal. As we see it, the Ashes would remain exactly the same, but everything else would get a bit of a leg-up. However, Stokes’ comments do raise an interesting question: how would you feel if the Ashes were restructured so that it included T20 matches and one-day internationals as well as Tests?

Sacrilege!

Yes. That was our initial reaction. So then we tried to work out why we felt that way.

Test cricket is our preferred format. It can at times be breathtakingly dull, but the sheer breadth of possibilities is what makes it endlessly fascinating. Different players, different pitches, different weather, different approaches, different match situations. With that in mind, surely it makes sense that even greater scope would make for an even more appealing event.

The outsider’s view

There is a tendency within cricket to see the formats as being pitted against one another. Rather than perceiving Twenty20 cricket as a gateway format to Test cricket, we instead take sides lest our favoured format be killed by its shorter (or longer) rivals.

But this isn’t really the way things are. It may seem that way from within, but for most people who don’t consider themselves fans of the sport, it doesn’t matter what the format – it is all just cricket. All three formats are just aspects of the same thing. Bat and ball. Runs and wickets.

People with only a casual interest in cricket cannot for the life of them understand how England can play Australia without it being the Ashes. They may well understand the rivalry, but they don’t necessarily understand the history.

The truth is, the rivalry is more important than the history. The rivalry is the essence. It is what drives things. It is what has created the history.

The rivalry is the Ashes – and that rivalry spans the formats.

A parallel

The Tour de France comprises 21 different bike races. At the end, they recognise an overall winner. People who follow the race may or may not care who wins the points jersey or the mountains jersey or any of the individual stages, but they will all care who wins overall.

Last year, the Tour started with a 13.8km time trial – competitors rode alone, against the clock. Stage four was 223.5km and other than stretches of cobblestones, almost entirely flat and everyone rode in a bunch. Stage 10 was 167km and finished at the top of a mountain.

These are very different challenges and the three stages therefore gave rise to three different winners. But it was all part of the same race. At the end of the three weeks, the overall winner was recognised. An all-rounder. Someone who had conquered everything. For all its complexity, the Tour remains at heart a simple event.

Epic!

We use the Tour de France as an example deliberately, because its epic nature is its very essence. The Ashes is also an epic contest and it’s hard to argue that adding a greater number of challenges would make it less so.

People are fond of saying that Twenty20 is just a few overs of slogging, but you could equally say that Test cricket is ‘just’ risk-free accumulation without time pressures. You could say that Test bowling is just keeping it tight and waiting for mistakes. These things aren’t true, but even if they were, each different challenge would still contribute to the whole.

It is the range and number of challenges which makes the Ashes the epic contest that it is. So we have to ask: a Test series or a cricket series – which would be more alluring?

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Last week’s County Championship cricket was even less consequential than the week before

At least last time around someone won. Halcyon days.

Out of the three draws in the latest round of matches, the points scored ranged from Middlesex’s 10 to Warwickshire and Surrey’s 13. Surrey v Somerset was the only fixture to reach the fourth innings and Durham v Middlesex didn’t even get halfway through the second.

Player of the week

Ooh, let’s go with Adil Rashid. Not because he made 63 and then took four wickets, but simply because he actually managed to grip the ball at all. Here’s a picture of him wearing lots of clothes.

Anything else to report?

No.

Really?

Oh, wait. We should probably say something about the table too.

Warwickshire are now top. Quite what this means is anyone’s guess being as they’ve played 50 per cent more matches than Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire in second and third and three times as many as Lancashire in fourth.

Surrey are bottom, obviously.

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Top ten single figure scores in the County Championship in 2016

The modern world is in thrall to the list. Everything has to be ranked. Everyone has this urge to say who’s better than whom, which innings was better than which, and which bowling performance was the greatest of all time.

They even abbreviate ‘greatest of all time’ to GOAT these days. You’d think the greatest in history wouldn’t change so often, but apparently the term’s used so frequently that no-one has the time to write it out in full any more.

Well we’re getting in on the action. Here’s our list of the top ten single figure scores in the first division of the County Championship so far this season.

  1. Jake Ball, Nottinghamshire – 9 not out
  2. Neil Wagner, Lancashire – 1
  3. Ben Stokes, Durham – 9
  4. Michael Richardson, Durham – 9
  5. Haseeb Hameed, Lancashire – 9
  6. Greg Smith, Nottinghamshire – 9
  7. Arun Harinath, Surrey – 9
  8. Steven Davies, Surrey – 8
  9. Tom Curran, Surrey – 8
  10. Karl Brown, Lancashire – 8

That Wagner knock in particular was all class.

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How often do you get ‘snow stopped play’?

We’ve attended a County Championship match on a double trousers day before. Sitting still, steadily losing heat throughout the day, you don’t quite realise how cold you are until your bone marrow turns solid.

You don’t know what that feels like? You’ll know it when it happens.

Ravi Rampaul didn’t mind the cold. They always make out like it’s extra tough for West Indians, as if they’re a different species or something. The truth is, Ravi’s well padded – and not in the ‘preparing to bat’ sense. He has valuable insulation for when the mercury starts to plummet and this is what allowed him to take 5-85 against Somerset.

Or maybe he was just well prepared. Maybe he washes his balls in iced water like that Russian guy who sauntered off despite having been shot in the head in the Pine Barrens episode of The Sopranos. Meanwhile the rest of us are left shivering, smarting from poison ivy and squeezing sachets of ketchup and mustard into our mouths in our desperate bid to survive the harsh conditions.

Marcus Trescothick made 127 in the same match. He’s pretty well padded too.

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Lord’s net practice – journey report

Was It Because I'm Black

Dumbo the Suzuki Jimny writes:

Just a few days after Ged and Daisy went to the Lord’s Ashes Test and got all confused about etiquette, Ged asked me to take him out and about for the working day, to culminate at Lord’s, The Home of Cricket, for a net with Charley “The Gent” Malloy and Escamillo Escapillo. I was incredibly excited about visiting Lord’s for the first time, but knew there was real work to do first.

Ged stuffed my copious rear with a great big cricket coffin and his kit bag, plus a much smaller bag full of his work papers, covering that lot with a large tarpaulin, as is his custom when I am likely to sit around loaded up.

“Giddy up Dumbo,” said Ged, as we set off. Unlike the bowler Mark Wood, who has an imaginary horse, I actually AM an imaginary horse, which is even more fun. We went to Hammersmith first up, to a big building with a visitors’ car park. Ged went in with his small bag of work papers. I waited. And waited. And waited. Ged was in there for hours. Eventually he came out of that building, looking quite perky.

“My new ukulele strings have arrived, Dumbo,” said Ged. “We’ve got time to collect them from the music shop on the All Saints Road on our way to Lord’s. Ride like the wind, Dumbo.”

This last request was a bit strange, given we were in Hammersmith in the rush hour. Unless you consider 10 to 15mph to be “like the wind.” I did my best.

Ged wasn’t in the music shop very long and came out proudly waving two sets of baritone ukulele strings. When we drove around the corner, there was a policeman waiting. He waved to a group of other policemen a little further down the road, who flagged us down. “Just a routine, random stop and search, sir,” said one of the policemen. He then asked Ged for any ID with his name on it. Ged proffered his Middlesex CCC life membership card.

I was overcome with fearful and paranoid thoughts. Ged always travels under a false identity; none of his credit cards or membership cards are in the name Ged Ladd. I thought the police would easily rumble Ged and that I would be impounded or worse. Why did they stop us and let countless others drive by? Was it Ged’s beard? Was it because I am black?

“Where are you coming from and going to, sir?” asked the copper.

Ged told him.

“What’s under the tarpaulin, sir?”

“My cricket coffin, kit bag and a bag of work papers,” said Ged.

‘Don’t say “coffin,”’ I thought. ‘That’s bound to arouse suspicion.’

“Would you please step out of the car and lift up the tarpaulin, sir?” said the policeman.

Ged showed him.

“Would you like me to open the bags?” asked Ged.

“That won’t be necessary, sir,” said the policemen. “Just waiting for the database check, sir.” There was a long pause.

“Do you like cricket, sir?” asked the policeman.

‘Good question,’ I thought. ‘You’ve stopped a life member of Middlesex CCC, on his way to Lord’s for a net, with a great big cricket coffin, but truthfully he doesn’t care much for cricket; he prefers rounders and netball.’

“Yes I do, officer,” said Ged, pathetically.

Thankfully, those silly policemen failed to rumble Ged’s false identity and let us go as soon as their useless database check came through.

To add to my sense of persecution though, when we got to Lord’s the gate official wouldn’t let us into the ground, as there was a so-called big match on the next day and no-one available to do a security check on me. I wanted Ged to tell her that we had been security checked ten minutes ago, when the fuzz gave us both a thorough going over, but he wimped out. Ged simply expressed his displeasure and parked me on the other side of the Wellington Road, so I still haven’t seen Lord’s.  But we’re going again soon and I’ll tell you all about it once I’ve been in.

Send your match reports to king@kingcricket.co.uk. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.

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Rob Key and the art of being selective in one’s giving of shits

Rob Key

If you’re wondering where we’ve been, we’ve unfortunately been too busy writing things to write things. One of these written distractions was about Rob Key.

Cricinfo gave it the coveted midnight on a Friday slot at the top of the homepage, clearly of a mind that this would be perfect for Key fans who would almost certainly be hitting city centre bars until the early hours before returning for a light spot of reading before bed.

It briefly mentions warehouses, biscuits and Ini Kamoze and we misquote Kevin Keegan, but it’s mostly a fairly straightforward look back on Key’s career. We didn’t think Cricinfo would want our usual Key tone. Maybe we were wrong.

Don’t think that we didn’t get carried away though. We overshot our target word count by 100 per cent and only succeeding in hacking it back to 50 per cent over. Fortunately, they let us off though on the grounds that “it’s not every day that Rob Key retires.”

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