All posts by StephenFH

August Cricket Week

Hampshire versus Kent, 26th-29th August 1978, Bournemouth. Surrey versus Hampshire 18-21st 2019  August,  The Oval.

When John Arlott retired in 1980 he wrote of his abiding nostalgia for the county cricket circuit which had anchored much of his career, cricketers as members of a travelling circus going round the country in the summer months, the game’s greats on board.  Something from another world now,  but in the summer of 1978 it was a strong  Kent team, that included ‘Deadly’ Derek Underwood, that came for the second half of the Bournemouth week. On the point of becoming County Champions they bumped into Gordon  Greenidge  going through a great purple patch:  five centuries and a fifty (in the SL game below) in seven innings; two of them enabling the home side  to win with relative ease, (umpires) Cowley and Jesty at the crease.

 

The photo of Trevor Jesty  from behind looks a bit odd now, although given a camera at just one end  with TV coverage  at the time, not especially then.  In another media age, Radio 2 did hourly sports desks in the afternoon which fed the game’s chatter, with the  second reading of the cricket scoreboard at 7.30; a holy of sorts for some, it was often delivered with a certain gravitas if memory serves.

As for those doing the chatter  players then perambulated around grounds and talked to members and spectators. This blog takes its name from those who watched  from one end of Dean Park in those years: prominent the then chair of CAMRA, real ale and communism,  ‘W.G.’, who having trialled the world of work for a fortnight in the 1950s had  decided against continuing with it, those too young to have made that decision; those that weren’t and hadn’t and one who remembered matches from the 1930s. Easy days spent watching cricket: part sanctuary, part speakers’ corner, and a comment on those with the patience to follow  the  game and the tolerances of each other that watching fostered.

The  Oval in 2019 is  a decent place to take in the pleasures of a Monday morning at the cricket, hearth  from its history and strangely, or maybe not all, the Vauxhall End has its ‘sightscreen committee’, independent-minded  comments and recollections as standard. Perhaps there is a parallel universe somewhere with many sightscreen committees, the game there might be the better for it , but in this one it should be mentioned the ‘People’s Home’ also benefits from its flag-bearers for the county game in the Peter May stand.

 

The course of the Surrey-Hants fixture  was reset  by a big innings of considerable maturity from Ollie Pope, enough to generate interest on the last afternoon despite the fact that, in the end, only 22 wickets fell over four days. The 12 men of Hants (one concussion sub) resisting the 13 of Surrey (two England call-ups) with an innings of promise from Felix Organ  leading their rearguard. As the game reached its conclusion Ben Foakes again showed the lightening speed of his reactions (and anticipation) and credit, of course, to those who field at short-leg

When the game was expanding in the direction of more limited-overs cricket  in decades past there were mature types then who, understandably, did not give thanks for having their memories, understanding, of the game disrupted.  Sentiments that get passed across the generations maybe; but had England had won the World Cup in 1979 no-one then would have been bonkers enough to promptly  downgrade the Gillette Cup, and  when England did win the Ashes in 1981, the County Championship was respected in  ways that it just isn’t now.  Much  centralisation of decision-making  since has left the game’s governing body appearing as confused as it is self-interested.

 

 

 

 

 

The Counties and ECB Payments

With cricket as with other team sports there are good reasons to  pool the monies that come into the game. In football the Premier League distributes £ sums in nine figures to individual clubs allowing for example,  AFC Bournemouth and Newcastle United, with their respective histories, to compete against each other.

The MCC library holds records of prize and other monies being shared in domestic cricket since before the time of the TCCB in the 1960s. While the numbers then had five digits fewer than in the top tier of English football now, in the more commercial ECB era the amounts paid out to the individual counties come in £mn and have over the last decade, broadly speaking, been pretty equal. Taken together with the game’s salary cap it gives the smaller counties a chance in the three formats of the game.

The fundamentals of this notwithstanding, the sentiment that a small number of seniors sitting on a bench are not enough to keep the county game afloat has been around for decades; and, of course, around for  those decades have been the first-class counties;  in the time since the snap was taken at Portsmouth in the 1970s  Durham added to their number.

But a mistake to think that there couldn’t be existential issues with the county game, that  domestic cricket doesn’t have a problem with excesses that come from the top. The problematic legacy of  rebuilt TMGs to accommodate  international matches has prompted suggestions by some that The 100 will make, or otherwise just cement, the establishment of  ‘8 super counties’, with not so much, if anything, of a future for the others.

Looking at their respective financial sizes the differences between the scale of operations between the TMGs is very apparent, perhaps more striking than the differences between the TMG counties and those that aren’t. Surrey, something of an outlier with its Oval Events £ generator, is approximately the same size as  Lancashire and Warwickshire put together. There is then another sizeable drop down to Yorkshire: who if not a financial minnow exactly before the rebuild of Headingley,  was then comparable to Derbyshire,  since when in the  financial legal table  it has moved up to bracket with the now  ex-challenger TMGs.

The Cricketer magazine last year had an editorial suggesting that the domestic game was almost £200mn in debt and that the new ECB competition  was ‘a diligently researched, meticulous attempt to eradicate it’.  So is ‘one-half’, or more,  of The 100 really a rather underexposed debt relief scheme?

Trawling through the accounts of the 18 counties for 2017  and allowing something for the ECB reserves held then gives a figure of somewhere around £125-30mn. Quite a lot less debt to eradicate  than might have been thought, maybe; much of it, of course, held by the TMGs, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire with debts £20mn+. So is much of what lies behind, and in front, of The 100  ‘a small country’ re-exporting  problems  from over-expansion back to a much larger one?

Failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, but to be sure the disorder from too many TMGs has a lengthy history and could reasonably be traced back to three businessmen and a Rose Bowl; the county of the Hambledon club going in search of prestige, and parking, in the 1980s. The game’s finances might well have been easier to manage since had they gone up the river in a boat.

But the problems of excess are a tale of many other decisions as well plainly.  In 2004  the offer from Channel 4 to continue with FTA coverage of Test cricket during 2006-9 was less good than the then existing contract; a message from the past that the  value of TV rights can go down as well as up to say nothing of the consequences  when they do.

The  decision to (almost) max out on £  over exposure from 2020, comes with a big, if not huge, downside risk  given that the world and the  value of TV rights may very well change again by 2023.  In a game that needs to find some sense of balance the sooner it reverses out of The 100 the more likely it is to find it.

The county by county financial details for this post are  on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Members

Think of county members and what tends to come to mind is mature folks,  generation 60 at Championship matches, not always appreciated by some in the game although not heard as much as they might have been in relation to The 100 either. With cricket set to embark on this highly experimental change in structure next year, there is an important point about county members: they are still there.

So why weren’t or aren’t members’  voices more of an influence? 15 of the first-class counties are membership  organisations and the collective presence, total numbers, of members on the most recent figures is  still in the high 60,000s, and although down in the time of Sky, it would be a bit surprising if they weren’t given what has happened since 2005.

Cheerfully at the Oval, Taunton and Trent Bridge membership has been on the rise over the years and at Lord’s, MCCC numbers appear to have held steady at around 8,000.  Surrey reportedly 13,000 now, followed by Notts and Somerset, the counties with biggest membership bases.

The drop overall since 2005 from around 80,000 is to a very large extent the falls  at Old Trafford, Headingley and Edgbaston; clubs that borrowed big and underwent ground rebuilds  ‘fit for the 21st century’, with corporate facilities to match, during the great expansion of TMGs. The count of members no more is sharp comment on the nature,  success,  of this venture into cricket stadiums; particularly at Lancashire where the decline is very striking.

It is not news that cricket  has a problem with a  legacy of debts to manage. Given the importance of central funding to the counties, and governance changes resulting in directors  nominating cum appointing  other directors, the influence of members and supporters, those below rather than above, is not what it should be.

Or what it needs to be. On the time horizon covered by the charts what members still there points to is a shifting balance of CC/ODC/T20 types,  generation 40 and above who became interested in the game when it was (much) more widely played in schools than it is now. The ‘ECB risk’ to cricket with its new competition, that it loses more established support than younger  newcomers be attracted, is real enough; but for those not feeling any curiosity or attraction, still less duty, to The 100, happily cricket has a rich legacy of ambient outgrounds which seem set to be used more from next year.

There is a table with the numbers for the 15 counties on the stats page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County ODC Cricket

56 years of Lord’s ODC finals came to an end last month with an occasion played out in front of a rather a lot  of empty seats. While it could be fairly said that  the numbers in attendance were not helped  any by the  same day scheduling  of an England World Cup warm-up match, last year the Mound Stand was pretty much full, the impression that domestic 50-over cricket was  being allowed to wither on its vine was a clear one.

Lord’s for the World Cup Final coming up and later this season host to the National Village and Club Finals, but not any longer a  county ODC (or T20) final;  a decision that seems to reflect a certain petulance as much as anything else. So for those who are not attracted to The 100 what sort of future is there for next year’s ODC?

Messages that it might become a development competition, played by under-25s, now being heard no more and it is a bit surprising that it was ever suggested that it would be. Last year there were around 160 county players under the age of 25 in all three formats of the game, while an 18 team ODC reasonably needs 15 man squads, 270 players (close to 300 appeared this year); the main numbers are just a long way apart.

As for whether those taking to the field will look more like second teams, by no means all 50-over players also play in the Blast to any great extent or indeed at all (from where it seems reasonable to think that most of The 100 players will be drawn).   For what their worth using the 2018 numbers on those who played in both 50 and 20 over formats  an average of 4 players missing  per county is a reasonable guess.

County XIs then rather than first or second teams particularly, although quite how this translates into what spectating will feel like might vary a lot. Not the least of the open questions now is whether there will be a free draft of players into The 100, any player picked by any team, so that it is at at least theoretically possible that the Somerset team who would have started their defence of the ODC title next year will be Welsh Fire and at the other end of the spectrum  some counties lose no  players at all.

Or if not this then what and how much is going to be left to the  managers of individual teams: will the Lancashire Blast players just slip into clothing with Manchester labels?  Sense, rather than a sense of the absurd, may be along at some point, meantime for those  thinking in terms of ambient  outgrounds as well as the cricket next year A is for Arundel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling is the thing that happens in 1/1000th of a second by Christian Ryan

‘One of the most startlingly original cricket books ever published’, wrote Matthew Engel, so picking up this book came with high promise and certainly there are some brilliantly written lead-ins to the photography of Patrick Eager in 1975; writing to heighten the senses, framing images seemingly to the point of intimacy with those performing at the top of the game then.

There is a wonderful panoramic photograph of the  World Cup Final that year:  Lord’s, its setting, the occasion, a reminder of cricket played  in a  less commercial era and a .001 moment in which Viv Richards, then a prince rather than the king is about to run out Ian Chappell; arm pulled back with ball,  Clive Lloyd, the bowler, in position at the wicket, Rohan Kanhai pointing to the other end and both batsmen looking at him with good reason for thinking I might not make this.

During a decade when TV coverage was free, but second chances to see were not many and the original films often taped over, Patrick Eager’s photographs are a large part of the visual record of the game then. Among the other brilliant images in the book are the possibly familiar photo of D.K. Lillee and his follow-through; Phil Edmonds bowling his hat-trick ball to Doug Walters in the same Headingley test, five close fielders crouching but Tony Greig still towering above all and umpire Tom Spencer informing Jeff Thompson, arms stretched out with ‘gunbarrel zeal’ that he had, in fact, just delivered a no-ball.

Quite what is observation, what reaction  pops up in several places and is something Christian Ryan rather wonders about again at the end of the book. As he puts it at one point

….faces in a photograph are sometimes exactly what they seem, sometimes not at all what they seem, and the trick and the hitch is not knowing which is which, or when and this is a part or a lot of the intrigue of photographs.

What is insight, a reveal, what a more or less synthetic pose for publicity not always easy to classify and when does it matter anyway is a question not far behind.  There are action shots in the book which can be reasonably classed as one, but the boundary between action and portraits blurs. FWIW  in 1978 this one blogger took the snap below of a relaxed-looking Geoffrey Boycott during a county game at Southampton, the picture of a man apart rather but also of one in his element. Quite who he is smiling at is a bit of mystery at first glance, not the lady to his right who is looking up at him, but at someone or somewhere in the middle distance.

The attention of the boy in the front row has been distracted, quite possibly by the photo being taken, boundary to wicket distance, prompted as it happened by noticing a serious and not entirely happy looking Geoffrey B fielding with his hands in his pockets, in front of a pavilion well populated with visiting Yorkshire members. As a simple observation this one snap f for failure, although the self-conscious response, looking away from the camera, has since made for a-things-were-better-then picture for Fred Boycott’s twitter followers; an early season warmer for those watching Championship cricket in April, even if it was taken in August.

Patrick Eager understandably enough mentions that he hoped that moving camera position in anticipation of a wicket falling didn’t actually trigger the event; or in the generality of things the opposite, given an intent to record the what had the photographer been elsewhere. More of an issue then than now maybe; with the limits of 1970s technology, he also mentions that it was a case of shoot tight or lose focus, possibly miss the .001 moment that day; but as seen now a tight focus can come at the expense of something of the wider social setting, and with it, arguably less or perhaps just a different feeling.

In the 1970s crowds were allowed on the outfield during intervals at Southampton, as elsewhere, and it was usual to see some taking a closer look at the players coming back out. The difference between his photo of  two West Indians, Bruce Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes coming out in 1957 and that of the two Chappell brothers in 1975 near where the Boycott photo was taken is striking: the first as a teenager, with a teenager’s  ground level view, three policemen helping keep order, unremarked upon; the second as a professional, a bit further in-field, spectators blurred images, their presence something of a problem.

While it would be wrong to say that Patrick Eager didn’t do crowd scenes, you do have to go looking for them a little bit, even at patrickeager.com where some 13,000 of his images have been uploaded. One of the more evocative images in the book is that taken at Trent Bridge showing a time when teenage boys attended Test match cricket in twos and threes, interested enough in the game for it to hold the attention on summer days sat on the grass. It is the photograph of an era when the sport was widely played in schools.

Feeling is ….is no-one’s idea of a coffee table book and the photographs are to be sure better seen in Kindle than the print edition.  Christian Ryan’s narrative does a fine job weaving its way round the images with sharp observations of small details and well-informed comment;  it is an impressive book that for this one reader pretty much lived up to the high expectation that others put on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxing Times?

The start of a new season at Lord’s and through the North Gate to the bag security check and  body search, as ever courteously done. If 2019 is going to be anything like previous seasons, and it probably will be, those doing the searching and wishing a good day will usually be  young, not over-paid and given the nature of the work, somewhere else tomorrow. As we reach the end of a decade that began with ‘austerity’ and all in it together, earnings of £12,500 are allowed now for those with jobs, there the next day or not, before paying income tax.

Two members of the Sunday League generation headed to the Mound Stand; born in a favourable decade for buying a house, the blogger’s mate and  partner have recently cashed in their chips on their property. A boy from the north done pretty good over the years, lived at number 16 when  Andrew and Ruth Strauss were good neighbours; but middle England, Pitshanger not Park Lane. Taking capital gains for what they are, allowances and exemptions totted up before payments of tax on income for him something like three to four times that for those at the gate, but a modest multiple still by comparison with some who will be along later this summer.

Gross inequities to be sure, a lot, although by no means all, coming  from the cyclical up of house prices. We have been here before, three times as it happens in the case of the Sunday League generation. The last cycle ended in 2008, like its predecessors, 17 years after it started, time to regret, forget and do it again then; although this time round the wealth transfers to the nation’s (grand) parents have been much greater, helping keep up the numbers of Sky subscribers and making a day at the Test at £150 affordable.

Ten miles west lies Southall with a population made up very largely of those with a South Asian heritage, a local travel company supplies adverts between overs on Sky and if you were to listen to some, one place where cricket’s new audience is going to be found.  A decade ago the local authority counted the number of cricket pitches in public spaces there, found 13, 31 in the borough as whole (Ealing),  and  expected then a need for a further six.  Divide by two for the actual numbers last year.

It is not in the least bit difficult to connect the decline on the commons with tax breaks for those prospering . The journalist James Bloodworth in his piece ‘Is capitalism killing cricket?’ goes back to the 1980s to point to the beginnings of the current decline of the game, the long form particularly. Certainly the rise and rise of managerialism has been no friend of cricket in schools and the problems faced by those aiming for a generational  renewal of interest now, any format, should put them in a place where they get some space.

The muddle surrounding The 100 has left those who take an interest wondering why they should. Looked at from the outside in 2019 the ECB appears cast as the gambler late at night with losses to recover unwisely taking big risks. Those trying to connect, looking for cool, could do themselves a favour by binning the management speak and then take a lead from Gareth Southgate about being honest and to the point. The game will find its own waistcoat.

If there is to be an uptake that sustains, the international game still seems the more likely place for it. Twice in the last forty years cricket has come up big, individual brilliance rising from the depths and a moment seized after an opposing captain’s mistake. In both 1981 and 2005 cricket, a civilising sound of the English summer, arguably did something for those outside it:  Botham’s Ashes in a country with  3mn+ unemployed, and in 2005, when a war in the desert still rankled with many.  The open question now is whether the game could actually do it again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

County Memberships 2019

Do county members get a decent return for their subs? With the 2019 season ahead members paying the adult rate now could be spending anything between £175 at Trent Bridge  and £309 at Taunton, although there are discounts for seniors, joint members and other categories available to varying extents.  County-by-county numbers are downloadable from the stats page.

39 days  (CC, the group stages for RL and Blast) watching Glamorgan  was available for £142 for those who paid up by February this year and joint memberships at Nottingham for £252, on the face of it, are not expensive for those who get to, say, 10-15 days over the course of a season. The numbers a comment, perhaps, on what the market will bear, membership totals at Cardiff have been in the 2,000’s for much of the last decade, and at Trent Bridge on its general financial stability. If the unit of measure for watching cricket live in England this summer is the cost of a day at the (Lord’s) Test, county memberships, in most cases, are less than a day for two.

For those of us counting in £ the average cost is close to £240, as to how much cricket comes with it the criticism that the Championship has been shunted into the sidings and played in April and September has been addressed in 2019, maybe at least partly in response to The Cricketer’s Blueprint last August. The number of days scheduled  mid-May to mid-August is around twice what it was last year and is now back to somewhere closer to the norm in the decade after 2005.

Good news for those who are able to watch during the week but not  especially for those who aren’t: CC days scheduled for the weekend in 2019 will, despite the  tweaking by some counties of the original schedule issued by the ECB, fall overall from 129 to 88.  If you can’t or don’t make the early season Championship weekends in April, much play to follow on Saturday or Sunday through the summer there is not.

In short, the 2019 schedule might prompt thoughts that the ECB  has a certain tendency to rather ‘forget’ members and spectators in the domestic game. CC and 50-over cricket during the week for a mature audience, hospitality and a night-out for those at T20 games for those in their middle years, but not so many days in the season when some might transit from a shorter format to a longer one, or occasional attenders or newcomers find it easy to go.

Whether there is a sealant of sorts actually being applied  to the county game via its fixture list, or not, overall about 1 Blast match in 4 will be played at the weekend starting at young junior plus mum friendly times.  In 2019 Worcestershire are playing 4  home T20 fixtures on Sunday afternoons, if other counties went back to something closer to the old Sunday League scheduling for their home games, the Blast, and the county game as a whole, might have more of a future than is sometimes now suggested.

 

 

 

A Dividing Game?

The afternoon of the 2018 Royal London  final was spent chatting to a players’ agent, an enthusiast for the ECB’s new competition amidst the game’s traditional audience, he made the point that for some of the players he worked with it might be a chance  to something like double their earnings from playing the game.

A polite conversation ended with agreement that cricket needs to attract more younger spectators than were present that day. ‘The 100’ is billed as the route to this end and for its duration large incentives to focus on the white-ball game seem to be coming the way of many players, in a sport with small numbers at the top on central contracts well remunerated, the great majority of professionals a great deal less so.

As to the effect on the playing base for Test cricket this brings us to the extent to which the game has already divided into those who specialise in one format or another. In the 2018 English season there were  450+  players who appeared at least once for their county; of these,  around 300 appeared in the Blast, one marker for the numbers who might conceivably think of themselves as possibles for the new competition, and of these, around 80% (230+) also played some Championship cricket.

FC List A T20
Did not play at all 77 (34) 172 (101) 152(111)
Only played 85(60) 3(3) 52(18)

England-qualified in brackets.

As a marker this is, of course, open to the comment that those who played more often, those who performances keep them in and around their side over a season, may in many cases be more of a possible, if not a probable. The Worcestershire team, for example, that won the 2018 Blast had four players who were ever-present, and some 90% or so of the names on their team sheets during the competition were occupied by 12 players.  These are not numbers to surprise particularly, around 90% of the places in the Surrey Championship winning side were occupied by 14 players, and the graphic below shows that player counts for the game as a whole were not very dis-similar.

The players’ appearance numbers are lined up in increasing order, Joe Root’s  for example (3 Championship matches, 1 T20) put him centre-left, those for Joe Denly (14 and 13) put him at the right hand end. T20 cricket is  concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of players than is the case in the first-class game, and if ‘the 90%ers’ were taken as a another marker for ECB competition possibles,  then the number drops to just under 230. Around two-thirds of these players were also ‘90%ers’ in their Championship sides.

‘The 90%ers’ T20 FC FC, who play T20
Total 229 271 146
England-Qualified 153 203 107
England-Qualified aged under 26 60 85 42

In short, taking a broad brush for some sense of the overall picture, while some specialisation there be, and not all of it short-term overseas hires by any means, in 2018 there were more T20 cricketers who were also Championship players; amongst the England qualified they numbered about a half of the Championship ‘regulars’. The question prompted by this is what is going to be done to solidify the careers of those  who see themselves as red-ball cricketers?

 

Data on appearances compiled  from Cricket Archive, nationalities taken from Cricinfo. The second table is based on rankings by county.

 

ECB Broadcasting Revenues

In recent years the ECB has generated revenues averaging around £145mn per year, of which something like two-thirds, close to a £100mn, has come from broadcasting. The deal with Sky announced last year to start in 2020 has been widely reported as being worth £1.1bn over 5 years, much bounty, and on the face of it more than twice the current sums.

As to where it is going to be spent, media reports this summer now gone have given figures of a £40mn budget for the new ECB competition, closer to £60mn once the payouts to the counties have been allowed for.  Specifically mentioned, £8mn to the players, but the details of the rest a bit of a mystery basically; plenty left for marketing, staging fees and so on and it would be a sad state if a big part of it was not for promoting participation.

But looking at the general picture, the £1.1bn figure suggests around £120mn more every year, so are the sums that have been mentioned in relation to the 100 so far really only half the story? Or was the headline number for the Sky contract a certain sort of overstatement, knowingly done, made available to encourage the adoption of a new ECB competition at a time when it had not been agreed?

A part of the answer to this question is how solid, reliable, any of these numbers are: the £145mn figure comes from the ECB’ s accounts, averaged out over the last four years, so allowing for the fact that revenues are considerably higher in a World Cup year. The broadcasting revenue comes from the ECB’s Annual Return for 2016, which that year gave a detailed breakdown:  for 2015, a World Cup year, and 2016, not; a little bit of extrapolating the 2016 figure to two other non-World Cup years gives an average figure near £100mn (£2018). In short both numbers are solid enough for a look at the general picture here.

More questionable are the sums reported for the 2020 Sky deal. A first question is how much of it is guaranteed, how much add-ons. If the ‘game-changer’ of a deal is dependent on add-ons, there seems to have been no public mention or hint of it so far; the words ‘up to’ that are used sometimes in reporting the contracts and transfers of footballers absent. The ECB’s Annual Return shows that (relatively small) sums were  paid then from an option Sky had; the open question here is whether a much bigger deal is much more dependent on options held by the broadcaster.

To be sure there are other factors that could create a sizeable difference between the headline figure and ‘actual’ revenue to the ECB: tax payments pull the numbers one way, bounty from the World Cup(s) the other;  although it is certainly possible that there will be £10mns extra per year from 2020  aside from the 100 budget given so far, a tester to be sure for the ECB board doing direction for the game as a whole.

To be spent quite how if so? In the generality of things the game has a problem with too many TMGs and declining participation, to which the response of the business minded governing body thus far has been to partly nationalize the sport; ownership, production and regulation of the new competition, the ECB.

There are fundamental reasons why other governing bodies in other sports do not do this, the problems surrounding a common owner of two teams playing one another being one of them. It is a no-no in football and is the first point covered in the FA’s Owners and Directors Test, there in the interests of maintaining some degree of sporting integrity. The ECB appear to be treating this as a secondary issue, which in  a sport that has its share of gambling issues is a poor signal to give.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oval Summer 2018

While the Surrey team taking to the field in the opening fixture against Hants (above) look generally together, there were not that many signs of the season that was to come. In early summer form there is of course little or none for anyone and the Oval wicket in particular had its reputation for doing draws.

The fourth game and  Sam Curran taking a 10-for against Yorkshire gave their season momentum, an innings win to be followed by those against Hants, Somerset and, in July, Notts. From the spectating end of things the Championship was by then on hold rather, but June did mark a visit from teams of Aboriginal cricketers a 150 years after the 1858 tour,  and at the end of July there was an entertaining KSL match between the Surrey Stars and Lancashire Thunder;  t20 cricket at the Oval with a Championship-type ambience and a competition that deserves a more settled future than it currently seems to have.

The first tied match in the history of the Championship was the Surrey v Lancashire fixture of 1894. This year might easily have been another one, a really well contested match (Surrey 211 and 306, Lancashire 247 and 264),  and, at the end, with six the difference, Matt Parkinson fended at a delivery from Morne Morkel and was instinctively, brilliantly, caught at short-leg by Will Jacks.

It was a gripping final afternoon and a crucial, if not decisive, moment in the season: what turned out to be the penultimate ball from the other end was a swing from Tom Bailey that did not connect with a very short leg-side boundary; and had the result gone the other way it might have unsettled Surrey’s campaign, de-railed it even. By the end of the Notts game the following week (below) the body language of the players suggested another story, and Somerset then did tie their fixture with Lancashire; the 24th in the competition’s history.

Early September brought the final Test with India, much attention with and appreciation for the career of Alistair Cook. There was also an interesting final day when for a time the Indians  were on course to emulate their 1979 predecessors; the year of Sunil Gavaskar’s  double century, when they drew a match at the ground scoring 400+ in the 4th innings. At the end of this one there were markers of Sam Curran’s progress as he set up Jimmy for the final delivery of the series.

Surrey were no question very  worthy county champions in 2018 and there was an excellent finale with the champions of 2017; the heightened senses of don’t miss a ball cricket on the final afternoon for a second time, nearly but not quite a record comeback, nearly the 25th tie.

To be sure they have  a financial advantage over other counties, part of which is returned to those who come to watch: £142 for the Championship and List A season, 12 guest tickets included, £5 for a KSL match and in the way cricket does bargains £20 for the 5th day of the Test. Reasonable sums in any year, although the cricket in 2018 exceeded reasonable expectations by a distance. It also funds high-end signings, Morne Morkel this year; with a career of more than 80 Tests behind him it was very evident just much he cared about playing county cricket this summer, which for those spectating was a very good thing to see and a message to others.