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Monday June 19 2006

Well, I’ve had my day of pottering about doing not very much thoroughly deranged by – would you believe? - county cricket.  On Ceefax.  You know, in among doing other things like pottering about.  But I got a lot less pottering done than I’d planned.

One day, limited overs (i.e. 50), county cricket is a very popular day out these days, and after today’s games you can see why that would be.  There were six games today.  Northants beat Derby by one run, Gloucester beat Surrey by two runs, and Middlesex beat Someset by 3 runs.  Essex beat Kent by 4 wickets, but could easily have lost at the end.  Only the games at Edgbaston where Notts beat Warks by 7 wickets, and in Durham where Durham beat Scotland in one of those rearranged ("Duckworth/Lewis") endings were matters in any way unsatisfactory.  So a jolly good time must have been had by most.

The Surrey game was especially remarkable, and not just because I support Surrey.  Gloucester got off to a spanking start, but then lost wickets.  However, their number ten had a slog at the end and they totalled 339 for 7, which is a lot, trust me.  Surrey looked doomed at 123 for 4, but occasional opener James Benning had started slogging and he just kept right on.  At 280 for 9 it looked all over again, but again Benning kept on doing his thing, and together with someone called Saker he got Surrey to within one boundary of winning, before Saker was run out of the second last ball of the last over.  (Earlier Benning had bowled 2 overs 0 wickets for 27, and Saker 8 overs 0 wickets for 64.) Benning ended up with 189 not out, with Saker’s 22 being the second top Surrey score.  That I would love to have seen.


Earlier in the week, Surrey succeeded where today they just failed.  For some reason, Surrey just can’t manage to win at the one day game, not even if one of them makes 189 not out.  But at four day cricket, they can’t seem to lose, no matter how hard they sometimes try.  (The way they rip into four day cricket you’d think they’d be naturals for the one day game, but it just doesn’t seem to work out that way.)

Their four day game against Somerset at Bath began last Wednesday, with Somerset quickly losing top order wickets.  But then Surrey dropped catches and batted with their usual gay, so to speak, abandon, and were behind on first innings.  Somerset looked set to bat Surrey out of it, but then they lost second innings wickets, and just after lunch on Friday, Surrey had a day and two thirds to get just over 350.

Two sessions later, it was all over, with Surrey racing to victory with an entire day to spare.  That I would also love to have seen.

However, what these two games illustrate is how very much more satisfactory, as entertainment, one day cricket is compared to the four day version.  I mean, what other kind of sporting entertainment would allow an entire summer Saturday to just disappear down the plug hole, with a spectacular finish like that Surrey/Somerset one being all done and dusted the previous evening?  That’s the trouble with four day cricket.  You know when it will start, assuming the weather doesn’t screw around with it, but you have no idea when it will end.

A few weeks ago, I tracked all the county games going on in one particular week, eight of them.  No less than four of them were all over in three days, with, again, the final days being Saturdays.  Two more were over by lunch on Saturday, and another soon after.  Only one game provided a full day’s entertainment on the Saturday.  (Actually, I think one of them may even have ended in two days.)

Clearly, the only people for whom this makes sense as entertainment are retired people, and those freakish young people who don’t mind entertainment that retired people also like.

I would never now bother to go to a county cricket match.  Which means, as a result, that I have never acquired the habit of going to cricket matches much at all.  I prefer to follow them on Ceefax, and watch the test matches on the telly.

Test matches, especially against good sides like Australia, make money.  (This is why it is such a big deal which county grounds they are played on.  Lancashire recently lost its next test match, amidst much weeping and wailing, and it went to Cardiff, amidst much Welsh celebration.) One day cricket is in rude health.  But the financial black hole that is four day county cricket is the great weakness of English cricket.  Nobody watches it.  And, surely, fewer and fewer people care about it.

What to do?

I would look at several things.

First, I would be looking at televising the whole thing, very cheaply and cheerfully, and somehow making money out of people like me who would like to be watching it, probably with something like adverts at the website where I click onto the pictures.  That used to be terribly difficult, but it is getting terribly easy, surely.  The cricket people ought to set this up for themselves, just like dads videoing their sons’ sports days.  If the cricketers wait for Rupert Murdoch to do this, they’ll wait for ever.

Second, if only to make the television pictures less depressing, I’d look at rearranging the seating.  You get that ghastly serried-ranks-of-empty-seats effect even when some test matches are televised, because those games also have a way of ending unpredictably, which means that towards the end, unless it’s Australia, no one shows up except the players and the media people.  The camera people do their best to conceal how few actual people are watching, but boundaries get hit, catches get taken in the deep, and those great slabs of empty seats sometimes just have to be shown.  So, I say, when there aren’t many people there, rip out the seats and replace them with promenades.

Another thing I’d look at is WiFi.  Antoine suggested this when I talked about this to him, and presumably he is now influenced quite a lot by Jackie D.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  She earns a living advising people about this stuff.

Basically, what county cricket has to do is stop being a place where your regular life stops, and where you sit there like a pudding and watch nothing but the game for day after day, even if the massed ranks of the proletariat did use to do that eighty years ago, standing, in cloth caps, looking grim.  If you go to county cricket now, you need to be able to continue with your life.  By socialising with others, and by doing that virtual form of socialising that is internetting, the assembled throng would be able to carry on living, instead of stopping living for the duration.

I remember cricket matches when I was at Marlborough, my posh public school.  They were excellent, and one of the more excellent things about them was that in amongst the throng of persons watching, other things were being attended to and talked about besides cricket.  Political intrigue, deals, gossip, fashion parading, philosophical discussion, etc.  Even school work.  Only when the Marlborough version of Freddy Flintoff was having a slog or taking a clatter of wickets did everyone stop all that and concentrate on the cricket.  That’s how county cricket should be.  Surround it with seats that everyone present is supposed to just, you know, sit in, doing nothing else, condemns the whole thing to a living death.

I could go on, but it hasn’t got any cooler, quite the opposite.  So that is your lot for today.

Brian, you do know that you can follow Surrey on-line, don’t you? The BBC provide audio commentary on every game of theirs. Ceefax is pretty tedious in comparison.

Posted by Peter Briffa on 19 June 2006

No I didn’t know that.  But actually, I don’t find Ceefax a bit tedious.  I like that it (a) has nothing to do with my computer, and (b) makes no noise, which leaves my ears free for music.  I often follow test matches on Ceefax even though radio is an option there too.

Does the BBC do every county game, locally or something?  Is that how it works?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 19 June 2006

Both Surrey and Middlesex have all their games covered. Other counties tend to do the one day stuff only. Surrey have a couple of guys, Middlesex one. The latter can be quite excruciating. Imagine being one bloke, alone with a microphone, explaining a county game from Uxbridge being played in front of three hundred people, to an audience of ... thousands. For seven hours a day, four days in a row.

Posted by Peter Briffa on 19 June 2006

Australia has a similar problem with its own four-day competition, but have learned to live with it. It does this by subsidising it with the money that the Test and ODI games make.

It does this because the four day game, although no one watches it, is a very high quality training ground to breed elite players that will go on to be great Test players. Even the ones that don’t make the Test team can often make a good living playing cricket in England in the winter.

Posted by Scott Wickstein on 20 June 2006
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