Last weekend I watched two (or part of two) limited over matches. Market Harborough v Loughborough on Saturday and Leicestershire v Nottinghamshire on Sunday.
The county game was the first match of this season’s new competition, a sort of half-hearted revival of the old John Player League. It’s played over 40 overs on Sundays and Bank Holidays, which is sensible enough, and it attracted a good crowd – fathers with children, sunbathers, football fans (the air horn and jazz woodbine brigade were in good voice). The action was good news from the point of view of a Leicestershire partisan – openers Jefferson and Du Toit laying into a moderate set of seamers for most of the innings. From a detached viewpoint, though, I do wonder about the wisdom of the fielding restrictions in force in one day cricket. In this 40 over format they are in place for 16 of those overs, and what we saw during those periods was two tall, strong batsman with powerful bats getting on the front foot to some moderate seamers and lofting the ball over the ring with impunity. There may be some bias here, in that, insofar as I was anything as a cricketer, I was a seamer, but you do have to feel for these fellows. One bouncer an over, an absurdly strict definition of a wide, forced to serve up a stream of hittable balls … it can’t be a lot of fun. The crowd want to see runs, and plenty of them and the restrictions on bowlers make it more likely than not that they will get to see them. For my part, I don’t know how much of this format I want to see (though, of course, having said that, I’m going back for more tomorrow).
The other match was Harborough’s Everards league game against Loughborough. These worlds overlap – last year Du Toit played 10 matches for Lutterworth, Nathan Buck 8 for Lutterworth, Josh Cobb 7 for Kibworth and Allenby, Cliff, Wyatt, Gurney, New, Naik and Boyce all appeared too. In fact I saw more of James Taylor (4 matches for Loughborough last year) on Saturday (not playing but presumably there to support his old team-mates) than I did on Sunday (bowled first ball). Here there are no fielding restrictions (that I could see) and if batsmen want boundaries they have to pick out the spaces in the field or genuinely clear the field. Given how little difference in quality there seems to me to be between the run-of-the-mill county man and the league player, I’m not sure I don’t prefer it.
And this is where I will be spending most of my Saturday afternoons in June and July (once 20/20 kicks off) – the bench square to the wicket, under a tree. If I want to subject a player’s technique to close scrutiny (and, to be frank I rarely do) I sit behind the wicket, in front of the pavilion, but mostly I sit here. The tree provides shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, birdsong in the ears and a light dusting of pollen. What more could you wish for?
These matches attract small crowds, apart from those known personally to the players. As evening approaches we sit in the gloaming, half- hidden under the trees, like the last gnomes of England, waiting for the floodlights to go on and the loud music to start, when we will vanish back into the undergrowth.