Month: May 2016 (page 3 of 3)

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.

 


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?


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’.


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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