Ebb and Flow of County Cricket Hard to Beat
A combination of good weather and friendly scheduling afforded me the – disappointingly rare – opportunity to take in some County Championship cricket recently, as Nottinghamshire welcomed Middlesex to Trent Bridge.
In, largely, glorious sunshine, the first day of this Division One clash provided everything cricket lovers could want from the game; proving once again how much the ‘long format’ has to offer.
With the home side sitting a disappointing 7th in the table, there had been growing concerns among the fan base relegation from the top flight might be on the cards for a side that has struggled with both form and injuries through the first half of the season.
With some early cloud cover, Nottinghamshire’ Captain Chris Read won the toss and elected to field; a decision which proved justified remarkably quickly when the energetic Luke Wood bowled Joe Burns in the third over.
Former England opener Sam Robson quickly followed, while the elegant Nick Compton received the briefest of reprieves after Brendan Taylor dropped him at second slip, with the 32-year old caught next ball by Read off the bowling of the impressive Brett Hutton.
England one day Captain Eoin Morgan received a second chance of his own shortly after, caught off a no ball by Harry Guerney, but struggled to capitalise on the opportunity before being caught behind by Read from the penultimate ball of the 33rd over to give Wood his second scalp.
Only Dawid Malan offered significant resistance, gracefully accumulating runs as partners came and went. Middlesex skipper James Franklin was trapped LBW by Guerney, who accounted for wicket keeper John Simpson as well. Ollie Rayner managed to provide Malan some support, doggedly holding up an end before a sharp catch by Brendan Taylor at cover gave the industrious Steven Mullaney his only wicket from two short but probing spells.
At 165/7, Notts appeared in control; with only Malan’s finely crafted inning preventing the situation from becoming somewhat embarrassing for the visitors.
But an eight wicket partnership of 175 between Malan and James Harris, a thorn in Notts side when the two sides met a Lords earlier in the season, pulled Middlesex not only back in to the game, but perhaps in to the drivers seat.
Such is the beauty of the game, both sides had held the upper hand at separate ends of the day, with Notts attack looking as flat against Malan and Harris’ staunch defence and smooth attacking play as the Middlesex top order had against the home sides early aggression with the ball.
The weather moved from cloud to blazing sunshine, with some speckles of rain falling towards the end of the day, to ensure the conditions played their part to test both batsmen and bowlers’ skills.
Many get hung up on the length of County games, frowning at the idea of a four day clash that can end in a draw. But such basic views belie the way the game can change so rapidly within that time frame. How one determined tail ender can snatch salvation from the jaws of defeat, or one session can so profoundly change the shape of a game, driving a team from being firm favourites to on the back foot in a matter of overs.
It was heartening to read that Notts membership levels have hit record levels – with 8,342 people now officials members – while thousands of others enjoy the sport up and down the country each week. Ashes fever will, hopefully, put the sport back in the nations cross hairs this summer; as it did in 2005, when England’s victory over Australia gripped the nation.
Participation numbers are tragically declining among older teens and adults. But a single day sat along the boundary, in the sunshine is all it takes to remind you of the beauty the game holds.
There is a certain amount of work to do for the ECB, and the counties, to attract people to games, to show them what the game is all about and how magical it can be. Twenty20 has gone a long way to making the game more accessible, showing off the game at its explosive best; but the longer format deserves its place at the pinnacle of the domestic game. A battle of wits and skill over four days, unlike anything else in sport.
It’s important these benefits are not lost, misunderstood or undervalued; but both fans and administrators.
Talk of reducing the number of County Championship games are often met with scorn from existing fans – and with such a subtle roller coaster as that which I was fortunate enough to enjoy one Sunday at Trent Bridge, it’s not hard to see why.