The Counties and their Finances I

Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Essex

Graeme Wright’s  book is a lively account of the issues attracting the attention of the game’s business minds at the beginning of the decade, some of which have certainly moved on, some of which equally certainly remain, hardy annuals as it were.  The difficulties caused by the bidding war for major matches and the resultant indebtedness of some of the TMG’s, now recognised,  a fixture list seemingly giving little rhythm to the cricket season, still,  and criticism of an over-powerful bureaucratic governing body then, for better or not a new ECB constitution in 2018.

The language of dependence  tends to permeate the references to the smaller counties, downstream from decisions, resistant to the proposed  city-type T20 competition at the end of the last decade and, in the view of some,  leaving the modernisation of the game a  decade and more behind rugby union. What future for county cricket now, with a city-based T20 game on the horizon from 2020,  its Championship watched by the proverbial three men and a dog and calls from prominent figures to reduce the amount of 4-day cricket that is played?

Financial  numbers tell us something about the county game and the revenues of the four counties above in the time of Sky TV are in the chart; the numbers for  Kent, Somerset and Worcester not very different to Derby, Leics and Northants  in 2016, those for Gloucester closer to Essex, Sussex a bit higher.  Once the effects of general inflation have been allowed for, the revenues of the four have, broadly speaking, flatlined, the effects of taking TV coverage behind a pay wall not helping with the general awareness of the game or, it seems reasonable to think,  membership numbers or ticket sales.

In the peculiar, peculiar in the sense of being unusual, economics of team sport, revenue sharing is something that gives smaller clubs a chance to compete, an aid to the overall competitive balance of the competitions that are played. The extent of this varies between sports, although for smaller clubs, their share of pooled funding is, of course, a larger % of their revenues.

Scaling the financial numbers in cricket up by factor of around  30, Leicester City FC, a relatively small PL club, were around 75% financed from TV monies in the year they were champions; in rugby union where the numbers are closer to those in cricket, Northampton Saints, for example, a not so small rugby club, receive about 30% of their funds from Premiership Rugby and the RFU.

When free market economics meets English cricket it could therefore be expected to be on the side of the smaller counties. Cricket has a long history of pooling monies from Test cricket that dates back to the time of the TCCB, and before: in the  Sky era  ECB monies have been of the order of 40-50% of the total revenues for Essex, Northants do not disclose £mn figures, but  have referred to ‘well in excess of 50%’ in their accounts. The % for Derby and Leics are in the chart. 

 

The revenues that the ECB generate are, in large part, derived from Test cricket and concentrating the revenues coming into the game via TV contracts has concentrated the financing for the red ball game. For individual counties more revenue may be generated by T20 ticket sales and the associated hospitality than comes from member subs from those more interested in 4 day cricket, but taking ECB monies with other revenues together the picture of what it is that finances the county game is more mixed.

Whether overall the long form of the game has been used to support the development of T20 cricket by the counties in the last decade or so is moot: but whatever answer be given,  a county Championship that is in large part financed to support the development of the England Test team needs sensible fixture scheduling among other things.

In the 2018 season ahead  county cricket overall will still make some sense economically, Derbyshire and 17 others doing what they are financed to do. Whether from 2020, when the cities are seeking a new audience for the T20 game, more 4-day cricket should be played by the counties at a time and in conditions they often don’t play in now, is another question again, and one that deserves to get an airing.

 

 

 

 

 

T20 Cricket and its Ownership

Both football and rugby union in England prevent the common ownership of teams that play in their competitions, a defence against the conflict of interest when two teams with the same owner play each other. In European football this issue was dealt with by the Court for Arbitration in Sport nearly twenty years ago after the investment company ENIC  bought stakes in clubs in Athens and Prague; since when in England Owners’ and Directors’ Tests have been introduced by both the Premier League and Football League that bar individuals from holding a significant interest in two clubs. The FA has its own separate test.

Despite the very great concentrations of money in football and the advantages it gives to those who have it, there is something to say the integrity of the game is still fundamental, that whatever the pre-match odds,  the outcomes of matches are not fixed. In 2017 the take-over of Gloucester Rugby Club by Mohed Altrad, the wealthy owner of the club in Montpellier, reportedly a good owner willing to invest substantially, was blocked by Premiership Rugby.  In cricket  in the first-class game 15 of the counties are currently registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies  Act; the other three, Durham, Hants and Northants have  different owners. Multiple team ownership within England’s major team sports has either been regulated on the basis that it is to akin to a no-no, or has otherwise just remained a non-issue over the decades.

The new 2020 t20 is different in that the game’s governing body is creating the teams that will be playing in it. While this does not necessarily mean they can’t be independent,  the ECB has so far has consistently maintained that the eight team competition will be  ‘ECB-owned’, which raises the question what does or at least what might this mean? What  here is light, what is shade?

Daniel Brettig wrote a piece last year titled ‘The big argument before the Big Bash’ in which he relates the differences there were within Australian cricket over ownership before not taking  finance from business people involved in the IPL; passing by ‘the free cheese in the mousetrap’. On this subject Michael Atherton also wrote a piece in The Times last summer looking at the different t20 leagues around the world, and also arguing for the advantages of not relying on external funding,  so that the profits that come along are available to nurture its future stars.

While there is plainly a question mark against the existence of any profits from 2020 t20,  this part of ‘the future’ could, with a bit of effort maybe, be seen as light. As to the management of the new competition, a reasonable question is whether the board of the  ECB would pass the FA’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test? The declaration  the FA requires directors to sign has as point number one

“I am not either directly or indirectly involved in or have the power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Football Club”

so after allowing for the specifics of its context, and wording, but given its intention and particularly how widely it is drawn, quite how would the ECB’s directors  (and the directors of a competition board) not fail it in relation to 2020 t20?

A regulatory body that owns the regulated seems likely to have problems from what might be called regulatory capture contraflow. As for t20 cricket keeping its profits within cricket, but avoiding the issues surrounding teams with a common  owner, in England this is, of course, the competition known as the T20 Blast. Given that the ECB is directing the future of the game away from it, the not so straightforward questions are quite why so, and where are they heading?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sundial in the Shade by Andrew Murtagh

For those who saw him bat the talent of Barry Richards puts him with a small group who are mentioned after  Don Bradman: Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards and not all that many others. His Test career was almost entirely sacrificed in the cause of ending apartheid in South Africa and prompted, at least in part, by a feeling that cricket goers now are not as aware of him as they might be,  Andy Murtagh’s biography is  a  view of a team-mate that  reveals a fair bit about the man as he lauds the player.

Among the most interesting observations are those made by the author (and also Robin Jackman at one point) on what it was that made Barry Richards such an exceptional batsman: forensic powers of observation from his extraordinary eyesight that let him see which way the seam on a ball was rotating  (and so which way it would it would spin), his capacity to remain still until he had decided to play forward or back and the great speed of his reactions when he had. In short gifts from nature that go with being a cricketing genius; a master technician, an innovator who was temperamentally given to attack.

It was  characteristic that he really excelled when presented with conditions or circumstances that others would find difficult,  announcing himself in England with an innings of 70 made out of a total of 122 when he had just started with Hampshire on a rain affected (‘S shaped’) pitch at Harrogate. The innings that stand out in the memory of this blogger are one of great care, 37 not out, but getting the better of Bishan Bedi in a match that went a long way to deciding the Championship in 1973 and also a brilliant Sunday League century in 1975, against a strong Leicestershire team that anticipated rather the way the game would be played in the T20 era, giving the pavilion roof at Dean Park a difficult afternoon in the process. At his best the effect he had on spectators was electrifying.

His Test career was over by 1970, after a series in which the South Africans defeated Australia 4-0,  playing 4 matches in which he averaged 72,  some happy seasons at Hants followed in which he and Gordon Greenidge formed an opening pairing that might be thought to compare with any in the history of the game; his partner going on to establish himself in the West Indian team that dominated from the mid-late seventies onwards. Towards the end of his time in England it would be fair to say that he was not greatly motivated by playing seven days a week on the county circuit, and his mid-season exit in 1978 while a relief to him personally, could have been  made in happier circumstances than a rain-affected match at Grace Road (above).

Andy Murtagh does a good job making it clear that he was more at home in the Southern Hemisphere, that he had a certain liking for Adelaide that was not felt for 1970s Southampton. It is not a short book and there is quite a lot of detail about the development of his career, the 1970 Test series in South Africa,  his innings of 356 in Australia and later his performance in WSC  which hint at the career that might have been (5 supertests,  an average of 79). Later chapters  remind how good he was as a commentator-summariser, comparable to say Michael Atherton in clarity and sharpness, and also chronicle his career as a cricket administrator.

Those with exceptional talent that sets them apart do not always have easy lives and  the observation that Barry Richards is a private man is made more than once in Sundial in the Shade; at ease with his friends from Durban High School, someone who came to tolerate autograph hunters as part of the job, but who did not appreciate particularly those whose search for stardust or whose curiosity took them beyond the limits of the public realm. The point is made that he regrets not having made more friends in his time at Hampshire, although Andy Murtagh’s essentially sympathetic appreciation  gives readers some understanding of why he did not.

In other circumstances Barry Richards may or may not have scored more runs than Graham Pollock or Brian Lara, or given as much or greater pleasure to those watching as either of them. For those who didn’t see him at all, there is a lot in this book about what he achieved in first-class cricket and if Sundial in the Shade can only go so far in persuading readers about how good he was, the ESPN legends of cricket (on youtube) gives some sense of the extent to which he was respected, revered as a player, by those that did have full careers at the top level of the game.

Darley Dale

Derbyshire v Hampshire 7th September 1975

Sundays in the 1970s  were quiet days, pre the relaxation of the  trading laws and with restrictive licensing that meant that pubs were open for two hours at lunchtime, before closing until the evening. Televised sport in the winter meant Ski Sunday, with its iconic signature tune, and, in the summer months, the Sunday League; a game a week broadcast on the Beeb, commentary by John Arlott and Jim Laker and bat and ball games on the outfield  during the tea interval helping  to breathe new life into the game.

The then 17 counties played each other once with the matches in 1975 being  played at over 50 venues: county grounds, outgrounds and outer outgrounds which that year included the Somerset team of Viv Richards and Ian Botham playing in Torquay,  and Colin Cowdrey and Derek Underwood playing for Kent in Long Eaton. When Hampshire defeated Leicestershire at Bournemouth in the penultimate round of fixtures  they were a win away from claiming the title that year. Interest was sufficiently high among supporters that a coach undertook what was, on the road network of the time, the long haul from Swanage to Darley Dale, ably organised by Joe Goodwin. Joe went on to become the chair of CAMRA, the  body championing consumer choice in beer matters, at the time choice for many was often bitter or mild and the ‘big six’ as they were known were standardising  production. CAMRA today still give an award to local pubs in Joe’s name.

Darley Dale Cricket Club played host to an estimated crowd of 6,000 (more than the population of Darley itself), and the scorecard for the day shows an era when county sides included Test cricketers, supported by decent county pros. Hampshire made 222-8 and won by 70 runs, in large part due to the dominance of their opening pair who put on 90, backed-up by John Rice who took 4-14 in his allotted overs.

In 2018 the T20 Blast is scheduled to be played at 23 venues and with the new city-based competition from 2020  on the horizon (“the future”) the number of venues it uses may well  be down to just 8. The game of cricket, it could be fairly said, has contracted in some important respects since the 1970s, while happily the nation’s choice of beers has widened considerably, and in many cases, gone local.  There are voices in the game suggesting that only the new standardised manufacture should be played in the height of summer in two years time; a message in a bottle, maybe, for cricket goers about the need to exercise their voice.

 

A Beautiful Game by Mark Nicholas

 A semi-autobiography and  the winner of The Cricket Society/MCC Book of the Year for 2017, A Beautiful Game was worth the time it took to read it. Mark Nicholas gives a very readable account  of his playing career, nearly two decades with Hampshire; the early years in the 2nd XIs  running errands for the first team and generally looking up to playing greatness, to the decade when he was captain of his county,  narrowly missing out on becoming England captain in 1988 at one point.

While this part of the book is likely to be of most interest to those who remember him playing, he is frank, disarmingly so at times, about key relationships with his team-mates, a fund of good stories and generally draws the reader into how he sees things well. He is also good on his playing triumphs, Hampshire eventually got to a Lord’s one-day final under his leadership (they were the 17th county to do so), the near misses (a Championship in the mid-80s in particular) and the days when things went badly (most notably in a match against a Pakistani touring team). His account of Robin Smith’s struggles with alcohol and depression after his playing career was over was written with great heart.

The writing is full-on for much of the book, which achieves its dramatic effect in the telling of his encounter with Kerry Packer that helped set his media career on its way in Australia, the re-telling of  the 2005 Ashes series and also in his comments on the game’s greats. In relation to his playing career the built environs of domestic English cricket were, by contrast, sometimes rather modest; the dressing room for the home players at Southampton for example the small cottage in the photos above (the visiting team a room behind opposite the gents used by members).

In a career lasting some forty or so years in the game, some things of course, as the saying goes, could have gone even better. He played a prominent role in Hampshire’s  move to the Rose Bowl, the development  of a purpose built ‘England outground’, a risky venture, that over the years has been rather fraught financially and  overall it seems to have been a less happy change than, say, the relocation of Southampton FC to St Mary’s.

The final chapter, his crystal ball, is thought-provoking. CLR James argued that cricket, its people should be seen in societal context; WG Grace a figure produced by Victorian England, the  market reforms on the sub-continent of the early 1990s and the rapid growth that followed background context for Lalit  Modhi and the IPL. In the last decade the Indian economy has more than doubled in size, that of this country has not and the monies from the media rights deal negotiated by the BCCI  this year were about twice those announced by the ECB; left to market forces the future of cricket, it seems fair to say, is likely to be what the sub-continent wants.

A member of cricket’s global media,  he appears to tacitly accept this and his view of things contrasts rather with those in this country who see the longer form of the game as being above T20 cricket, and who might also see the ECB’s revenue generation from overseas markets as being decidedly two-edged. He comments on a structure for Test match cricket, which seems largely uncontroversial and likely to be quite widely welcomed,  other things, four days for a Test and his support for a city based T20 competition are or have been contentious; England, he comments, desperately wants an equivalent to the Big Bash. The  point of a crystal ball, is of course, to try and shape the future, as much as to see into it, and reading the final chapter does rather prompt the question as to how much of England there now is in the Englishman that wrote it?

 

 

 

 

 

Hampshire at Dean Park

Many thanks to Gary Sanford, who watched much Hampshire cricket at Dean Park for the photographs of the ground that prompted this post. Mark Nicholas in his book A Beautiful Game gives a very readable account of his time playing for the county at the time, as to the spectators who took pleasure watching, they had the good fortune to see high level cricket played on the county’s outgrounds of which Dean Park was the most picturesque.

Those by the sightscreen at the end  of the ground from which the photograph here was taken  were collectively known as the ‘Winton End committee’;  individuals that came from well beyond the county’s borders each year for the Bournemouth week as well as those who lived locally; an annual pilgrimage of sorts for some, the member for Woking declaring ‘this committee meeting open’ each year.

On a wall of the pavilion there was a photograph of WG Grace at the turn of the 20th century when on the ground, and two distinctive bearded members  of the aforementioned committee  certainly did their bit for English heritage over the years; one who became the chair of the Campaign for Real Ale in its formative years, Dean Park a convivial place to organise and also a place of informed opinion on ales.  By the time the photograph above was taken a decade or so later, ‘Tony’ remained a prominent figure, often immersed in the cricket seen through his binoculars, to the side or at times just in front of the sightscreen, a prime spot from which to watch the game. He was also a natural with a cricket bat.

Despite the very English idyll suggested here, the 1980s were in some respects also very different; a decade in which, for example, Viv Anderson and John Barnes were at different times booed by sections of the crowd when they played at Wembley. Sunday League fixtures at Dean Park had spectator numbers increased  by  ‘football supporters’  and when Gordon Greenidge’s wife approached a group of about 20 or so sitting by the sightscreen collecting for her husband’s benefit, her face betrayed genuine uncertainty as to the nature of the response she was about to receive. Courtesies followed and £1 for the raffle tickets was collected about 20 times over.

As for the ‘actual committee’ Gary’s  photos show  the mayor’s tent and other hospitality tents, the forerunner of today’s corporate boxes; seemingly natural homes for some of its members.  Socially very different, the two worlds did intersect on occasion, the expeditions to distant outgrounds organized at the Winton End being instances of such, most memorably perhaps the trip to Darley Dale in 1975; those who went returned a full 24 hours later after traveling on a very different road network.

About the time these photographs were taken those who held offices on the main Hampshire committee  first mooted the prospect of a new ground with the aim of hosting Test Match cricket, and also alleviating the parking problems at the Northlands Road ground in  Southampton. While it would  be fair to say that the county game as a whole has become more centralised over the years, Stephen Chalke’s book, Summer’s Crown, also makes it clear that Hampshire have been the only county that has relocated away from a town or city centre. The wisdom of this decision in relation both to the county’s heritage, and its future, escaped the blogger at the time, the photos here are a reminder that it still does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrowgate

Kartikeya Date  wrote a comment piece a while back expressing amazement at how few professional observers seemed to be aware of how over rates are calculated in international cricket and the  indulgences in mistaken arithmetic that follow from it (http://cricketingview.blogspot.co.uk). The subject of over rates was again prominent this week in English cricket with the Championship standings for 2017 finally settled;  Middlesex’s appeal against a penalty of two points for slow rates, in the game when an arrow landed on the Oval, rejected.

Championship cricket requires a minimum of 16 overs an hour, which, maybe confusingly, is not to say that those counties who meet the minimum will actually be bowling 16 overs an hour as pavilion  clocks tick round. The over rate calculation that is used is

(Time spent in the field in minutes- allowances)/3.75

Rule 16.4 in particular states that two minutes are allowed for when a wicket falls, although not the last wicket or one that is followed directly by an interval. There is no allowance for a drinks break. So, if a team was in the field for an hour with no wickets or anything else to allow for, the calculation becomes 60/3.75 = 16, although, in practice, if a team is to incur a penalty they have to be in the field for at least four hours. As to the anything else that is allowed for, the ECB rules have this to say

“Any suspension of play for an injury to a player or for any other reason beyond the control of the players shall be a deductible allowance”.

So, if an inebriated spectator made their way onto the field and held up play an allowance could easily be made in the calculation. What Arrowgate raised is what happens when there is a longer suspension,  such as one from a safety or security alert, that might lead to the early termination of a match, or otherwise seriously reduce the available time for play.

The  rules are, of course, cast in terms of the team fielding at the time play is suspended,  although the calculation for determining penalties is done on a match basis and  a longer suspension might, of course, affect the team batting as well; as arguably happened on the 4th day of the Surrey v Middlesex match. Actually giving players leeway on this appears problematic given the way the rules are expressed through the over rate calculation;  at the  moment players are given consideration for relatively short interruptions, but not for more lengthy ones, something that,  on the face of it,  seems ironic.

This time round it appears that the ECB have dealt with a problem by sitting on it. It would be a very good thing for spectators if the safety-related issues  raised that day were not sat on, the need for ground authorities to communicate and co-ordinate operationally in particular. A comment on the blogger’s experience that afternoon is here http://bythesightscreen.com/surrey-versus-middlesex-4th-day/

Over on planet football, when Manchester United played AFC Bournemouth at the end of the 2015-16 season, there was a safety alert when a suspect package was found in the toilets before the kick-off, leading to a postponement. During the  evacuation of the ground, which took 20 minutes plus as one side of the stadium was emptied followed by the other, the blogger’s experience was that the PA was telling spectators  to remain by their seats, while turnstile operators directly underneath were allowing spectators  to exit, that of others that spectators were still being admitted to the ground at the time of the evacuation.

Happily all who went to the ground that day went home again, as might be expected when the suspect package was, in fact,  a training device. The follow-on question here is were it necessary to evacuate a large crowd at a cricket ground, say 15 minutes before the start of a T20 match, would the response be better than at Old Trafford 18 months ago?

 

Batting for England I: 1970-1999

An Ashes series ahead and England doing issues with their top order batsmen to the extent that Jonathan Agnew wrote that those chosen for the tour party were, at best, “a lucky dip”. What, therefore, to make of the signals from the county game about players who have the potential to play for England? A long time ago, before TMS had had its twentieth birthday, Trevor Bailey used to comment that a county average of 40 was a marker for a Test prospect; he was not alone, then or now. Of course there were exceptions, Mike Brearley, for example, is often remembered  for his captaincy rather than his runs, particularly during ‘Botham’s Ashes’ in 1981. 

1981 was a year of change that saw the  full covering of pitches in the domestic game and the players’ averages over the years reflect this. Taking for instance the England batsmen turned commentators now, whose career averages on their Test debuts are shown in the chart, David Lloyd and David Gower for example debuted in 1974 and 1978 with averages of 32 and 27; the other four who  first played in Tests over a decade later all had higher averages.  By comparison, Geoff Boycott, who first played for England against the Australians in 1964, had an average of 46.   

 

When players’ careers are on the rise and they first come into the England team, the average in the season when they are first picked (or the season before they go on tour)  could be expected to be above their career average more often than not; David Lloyd  and David Gower  had averages of 62 and 41 when first picked.  As to the general picture there is a pretty well defined list of 66 players who were picked to play as specialist batsmen for England between 1970-99 and their numbers are shown in the second chart. 

 

The overall average of the career numbers is 37, that for the season 44, add them and divide by two results in a figure just over 40!  As is evident there is some upward drift in the numbers and there is also a fair bit of variation from one player to another.  The variation around the career and seasonal averages itself averages 5-6.  Apart from David Lloyd in 1974,  the two others with averages of 60+ in the season picked were James Whitaker in 1986 and Steve James in 1998; although as with David Lloyd, Steve James was selected early in the season after a relatively small number of innings. James Whitaker had a very good season in 1986 that included  9 not outs. The two standouts with  career averages of 60+ are Allan Lamb in 1982 (as with others based on runs scored in England) and Graham Hick.

As for the relationship between a player’s average(s) when first picked and their subsequent Test career there is no obvious close and direct association. Of the major run-getters for England during these years, Allan Lamb and, to a lesser extent,  Nasser Hussain had numbers above the average line on their Test debuts; the others starting with Graham Gooch in 1974 and ending with Michael Vaughan in 1999 were either on or below it; in the case of Michael Vaughan, whose numbers are at the right hand end of the chart, quite a way below it.

TMS commentators in the 1970s,  Trevor Bailey, Henry Blofeld and Brian Johnston, with end of play summaries by EW  Swanton,  had a certain confidence that came from their backgrounds and with it also suggested a certain stability about the order of things; the relationship between Test and county cricket included as well perhaps, whether justified or not. But broadly, the numbers here do give  some sort of credibility to the idea that the county Championship then sent out useful messages about those with Test potential, or at least those that the selectors thought had it.

 

2017 Extras

 

In 2017 many Championship fixtures were drawn, so credit to the players  who continued to work hard, even when the games were going nowhere and spectators in attendance were sparse.

The T20 Blast drew crowds of 20,000 plus to  the Home of Cricket on more than one occasion and when Middlesex took a game to Old Deer Park, a record number turned up there as well. It would be fair to add there were some obvious limits to the interest of a cosmopolitan crowd in the capital on a night out, large numbers were not turned away from ODP (gate 4,000 that evening) and a very noticeably smaller number attended  Surrey’s quarter-final against Warwickshire, the Friday evening before a bank holiday. 14,000 tickets were pre-sold said the Sky commentator rather anxiously  as the cameras panned the empty seats. As for the wisdom of two t20 domestic  competitions from 2020, this seemed a bit bonkers at the beginning of the season and still seemed that way at the end of it.

A first for the blogger was an afternoon watching a WCSL fixture, Surrey Stars versus Western Storm, £5 a bargain. Plenty of free hitting and a highly competitive  match.   In the afterglow of winning the World Cup the women’s game looks like it could grow and grow; spectators who were new to the game of cricket came as did those who have been before, touches of colour appeared in parts where, so far, in the men’s game it hasn’t.

Not good was the day when a nut with a bow let go of an arrow. It landed on the Oval, the players took cover and the pigeons moved over. It could be said that all is well that ends well although, security wise, some things can always go better and hopefully they will, if one day they be needed.

And finally, Rory Burns was out, and also off, 30 minutes or so from the end of the Surrey v Hants Championship match in July. The Surrey captain and opening bat was stumped by Lewis McManus off the bowling of Sean Ervine for 68; Surrey were following on after he had carried his bat in their first innings making 219. Some staying power in the era of T20 cricket; it was  a becalmed afternoon in high summer in a game that was still a pleasure to watch.

Uxbridge

Middlesex versus Hampshire, 12-15th September 2017

To every Hove its Arundel, although to Uxbridge in September when it would have been better were it Lord’s was a test of patience. After a blank first day, a start was made on the second morning, although when some rain came the players did not delay in leaving the field, a reminder of times of old, before the arrival of T20 cricket and the changed attitudes that have come with it. To be fair, given the problems with the covers it was probably of some help to the ground staff as well.

In a nice touch after lunch the PA informed that Felix Organ from the Hampshire academy, who had travelled to the ground after James Vince withdrew in the morning, was present in person making his debut for the county; alas a quick deluge followed after a few minutes and whereas at a major ground coverage, drainage and a resumption in an hour or so would have probably followed, that was it for the day. Middlesex 76-3.

The blogger renewed his enthusiasm for spectating on the third day by listening to the BBC commentary, a job well done by them as it usually is. Play resumed on time on the Friday morning, some warm sunshine, free admission and a sprinkling of spectators to witness proceedings. The Middlesex innings closed on 204 and in reply Hampshire made 146,  no-one really batted with any sense of permanence at the crease on either side, although Joe Weatherley, Felix Organ and Ian Holland played attractively for the visitors. A pleasant few hours to watch and a reminder of the charm of watching at outgrounds.

Middlesex play much of the time at Lord’s, ground preparations by the MCC, their outgrounds, prepared  in high summer by club/school; it came to light that they do not have their own ground staff and it seems that more time was lost in this match than might have been as a result. The 2016 winners of the Championship go into the final two rounds of matches with Yorkshire and Somerset their chief rivals to avoid the drop, the tables turned on a year ago and some added spice to the end of season given the way the title was won last year.

Elsewhere,  Essex became  Champions for 2017, a title won at Edgbaston with a team that had seven players born in what might be termed  the historic cricketing county. It was the seventh time in all and their first win since 1992. To use Stephen Chalke’s phrase  they are a grounded club; other counties have mortgaged their futures, gone prospecting for prestige since then, while Essex, it could be said, have played the game.

 

A blog about English cricket