The south-east map of f-c county cricket in 1971, 6 counties 24 grounds; across the game that year 74. A different world half a century ago, but one in which cricket was accessible to folks from the sort of backgrounds the sport struggles to reach now, in many cases just doesn’t; the professional game being nowhere near them a part of it.
It being how things were when first taking to cricket I have taste for outgrounds. This season the counties play Championship fixtures at seven of them, some places to feed the soul of traditional supporters still: Chesterfield, Cheltenham and Scarborough going strong and Lancashire have games at both Blackpool and Southport on their schedule, but by comparison with 2019, the last full season before The 100, there has been a very noticeable drop from the 19 grounds used that year.
Au revoir then to Arundel, Colwyn Bay, Swansea, Tunbridge Wells, Liverpool among others as stages for the 4-day game? Maybe so, certainly the payouts from The 100 don’t seem to be doing all that much to help the cause of outgrounds, the opposite if anything. Not helping them to promote the long-form of the game, but not the shortest either: Blast games there were at Blackpool and Chesterfield and Middlesex, moving away from Lord’s, in 2023 played games at Merchant Taylors’ School and Radlett, but that’s it.
Perhaps county managers were or are anticipating reductions in the playing schedule or have developed likings for The 100, and become more centralised in their views. But whatever lies behind the decisions taken, outground cricket, at least in terms of the number of places played is increasingly the ODC; some discretionary decisions to take games away from the centres, some not.
The recent equity report on cricket made very little of the game’s geography, but the chance for kids of all ages to watch the pros and play on the outfield during the intervals is one of the game’s better customs, still practised by some counties and worthy of spreading back to places that cricket seems to be leaving behind.