The Championship has made a welcome re-appearance in the last month after its ‘break for the summer’ and if comments about its sidelining are not exactly new, the point being made has become more a lot more pointed. In 2016 almost exactly a half of the competition was scheduled towards the middle of the summer, since when through a combination of reducing the number of games to 14 and other changes to the fixture list this has declined half-way to not all. The obvious general question here is where is all this heading?
As to the wait between games at the 18 county grounds the longest gaps are not surprisingly at counties that do cricket festivals on outgrounds, although not all those that play at outgrounds have particularly long intervals at their main ground. But the impact of taking the game away from the middle of the English summer in the last couple of years is plainly a general one and for most resulted in a gap of something like two months in 2018.
The CC ‘Summer Break’, no of Days 2018 (2016)
|Headingley||127 (63)||Chester-le-Street||61 (47)|
|The Oval||96 (39)||Derby||61 (50)|
|Bristol||77 (89)||Leicester||56 (34)|
|Hove||75 (38)||Northampton||56 (39)|
|Lord’s||68 (35)||Southampton||56 (31)|
|Edgbaston||67 (31)||Cardiff||51 (61)|
|Taunton||67 (39)||Canterbury||41 (44)|
|Old Trafford||64 (50)||Trent Bridge||41 (32)|
|Chelmsford||61 (31)||Worcester||40 (37)|
If rhythm in the cricket season comes from continuity and at least some regularity in the fixture list it has gone missing in the Championship scheduling and there are other variations that from the spectating end of things are difficult to fathom. The six rounds of matches in the first part of the season are played across the weekend, the four rounds of matches in September when the competition reaches its climax, are played during the week. Matches in 2018 started on all seven days of the week; those that began two days after the August bank holiday had a scheduled Saturday finish when domestic football was a rival attraction and the following week finished on a Friday when football was on an international break.
In a world of free streaming and Beeb radio commentary at some point this might very well risk an exodus of members, the game’s bedrock joining the Chief National Selector in seeing the Championship as an I-pad experience. The August issue of The Cricketer magazine included a piece from its editor making the case for more red-ball cricket mid-summer, central it might be thought to the competition retaining its strategic importance in the game; although with the ECB pushing on with The Hundred and some county voices responding to it by arguing the case for an expanded Blast, the problem for the appreciators of the game’s long-form is evidently a fundamental one.
It is a long way from obvious that there are enough figures in the cricket establishment with incentives to stabilise the place of red-ball game. George Dobell wrote a piece this summer on the presence of a Cricket Supporters’ Association, a body to give the game’s supporters more of a voice. FWIW, almost 20 years ago this one blogger had some involvement with the setting up of football’s Supporters’ Direct, from which a fairly clear message that there are issues that ‘burn’ (existential ones at many football clubs then) and attract support, and there are good intentions about governance changes, the election of supporters’ reps to boards, which are often the long-road. The tensions within the game being the way they are the need for a campaign for red-ball cricket looks real enough.
Data sourced from Cricket Archive.