Well, that’s it from Grace Road for the time being, so I’ll hand you back to the studio. We hope to be returning some time next month.
Unless I have mis-read the fixture list, there is no more cricket at Grace Road until a CB40 match on the 14th of July and another on the 22nd. The next day of Championship cricket (the first since the 8th of June) will be on the 27th of July. There is a fairly pointless one-day match against the Australians, to prepare them for the upcoming completely pointless series of ODIs and plenty of T20s (5 home and 5 away), with all the home matches being played on weekday evenings. I couldn’t watch these even if I wanted to.
It isn’t that I dislike T20 cricket per se. The one match I’ve seen live (on a Sunday afternoon) I quite enjoyed ; as an afternoon out, it wasn’t vastly different to the usual 40-over bunfight. I can see the argument that it has led to the development of new skills – though I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to feel wild excitement at the bowling of a dot ball or a steer through some non-existent slips. Even the gimmicks (including, this year, using the X Factor man to announce the players as they come into bat) have, in the domestic game, the make-do-and-mend cheeriness of a village fete.
What I do genuinely hate about T20 (and that’s not too strong a word) is the way that its total dominance of June and July has ruined the County season.
There is a practical aspect to this. If Championship cricket is pushed further forwards into April and May there is always a good chance that it will be reduced to a farce by rain. The last two years the gamble has come off, but this year – as anyone who has watched much of it will attest – has been a thoroughly miserable experience for the spectators, with the sides leading at the half way mark being those who’ve been lucky with the weather and ridden their luck in terms of freak declarations and forfeits. When it resumes there will be sides whose season is effectively over, and not in all cases through their own fault.
I cannot remember speaking to anyone who watches 4-day cricket regularly who would not prefer to have the T20 competition spread throughout the season – perhaps one a fortnight on Friday nights. In the world of fantasy, they could spread them around the outgrounds (Grand Twenty Twenty Cricket Match Tonight! All The Fun Of The Fair!). By doing so, there could be more matches played (and so more revenue) and less chance that a wet June would ruin it.
Why the T20 fixtures are so condensed I genuinely don’t understand. One argument, I think, is that the players find it hard to switch between different forms of the game. But they used to be able to cope when 40 over matches were played in the middle of 3 day games, and I’d have thought it was more difficult to readjust to playing Championship cricket after six weeks of T20 than chopping and changing between the two.
Another, I imagine, is that it means the domestic competition does not overlap with any other T20 tournament and so it allows supranational galacticos to jet from tournament to tournament without forming any real affiliation to a particular side. Neither does it overlap with the football season, and I think it is true that some of the specialist T20 crowd are essentially football fans looking to fill in time between seasons with a quasi-football experience. (Not that this helps when England are playing in an international competition).
But my real objection goes beyond the practical ones, and that is that by hogging the whole of High Summer T20 has ruined what Mike Selvey (in a poetic moment) called the cadences of the County season. Everyone could put up with a damp May if there were a full-flowering June to look forward to, and everyone could put up with the dog days of August if there were a flaming July to look back on.
I can’t describe this any better than Neville Cardus did in his great essay ‘The Summer Game’ , so I’ll quote from it instead. (I suspect the titles of Cardus’s books – Days in the Sun, The Summer Game, Good Days – would be hard for the modern fan to connect with cricket at all. Days in Front of the Telly and Nights under the Floodlights might be evocative for them.)
“Cricket has the movement of summer in its growth and budding-time. The game comes to us modestly on spring’s rainy days, and like a plant it turns to the sun and is not happy when an east wind blows. But as the season passes, cricket begins to flower; by the time hot June is come it is roses, roses all the way from Old Trafford to Canterbury. Sit on the Mound Stand at Lord’s on midsummer morning at noon, and if the sun be ample and you close your eyes for a while you will see a vision of all the cricket fields in England at that very minute; it is a vision of the game’s rich seasonal yield; a vision of green spaces over our land, of flashing bats, of thudding, convulsive bowlers, and men in white alone in the deep or bent low in the slips.”
If you sat on the Mound Stand at noon on midummer morning this year (admittedly a Sunday) you’d see no first-class cricket at all (apart from the Varsity match in Oxford), though if you waited until the afternoon you could catch a couple of T20 matches.
Bring it on!