Monday, April 07, 2008

You don't need a Weatherman...

If, as seems likely, the advent of the IPL is going to provoke a re-think on the structure of the first class game in this country, maybe they should start with 'opening day', and how cricket announces itself at the start of the season.

On Thursday, the 2008 season kicks off with the utterly meaningless The 'Champion Country v MCC' match at Lords, which is going to be played at a maximum temperature of 12 degrees - comparable to Helsinki or St Petersburg. What ECB numbskull decided it would be a good idea to start the season on 10th April for heavens sake.

Presumably participation in this game is seen as some sort of 'reward' for the Champion county - to which I'd imagine the rather salty response from the Sussex dressing room would be something like "gee thanks, but we'd rather being playing a game in Barbados if it's all the same to you"

They'll be a lot of 'team huddles' on Thursday - not for any tactical purposes, but to give the players a chance to gather together for warmth.

The MCC side contains some borderline test players to give the game the spurious credibility of a test trial. Bearing in mind the conditions, I fail to see what possible value is there in a batsman scraping out a hundred in sub-Arctic temperatures against bowlers reluctant to crank it up over three -quarter pace through fear of ripping a hamstring - with fielders trying to keep their hands warm, wearing three sweaters to ward off imminent hypothermia. Especially in these current times when it would take one of the top six to be caught with five prostitutes, talking German wearing a Nazi uniform to lose his place in the team.

Even this, however, is a step up over what we used to have - a county piling up 450-3 against a hapless Cambridge University side at Fenners in front of some mystifed American tourists and a couple of undergraduates skiving off a lecture.

Why not start the season properly, with a bit of a fanfare?

May Day Bank Holiday weekend is the ideal opportunity. It's a fixed date each year (first Monday in May). Start the game either on the Friday, so you have the possibility of a nice tight finish on the Bank Holiday Monday, or the Saturday which probably guarantees a full days play on the Bank Holiday, regardless of the final result.

Then make the games local derbies wherever possible, obviously within the confines of the divisional set up. Lancs v Yorkshire, Kent v Surrey, Middlesex v Essex, Sussex v Hampshire and Gloucester v Worcestershire would all be viable games this season. Or be imaginative and start with the top two counties from the previous season - or two counties where there was noticably some 'bad blood' in last years fixtures.

As it's before test matches kick in (albeit only just in the current 'squeeze a quart into a pint pot' way of things) all the England internationals will be on parade, so young fans will be able to see, in the flesh, the players they've been watching on Sky all winter.

Some would argue that teams and players need warm-up games before moving on to competitive cricket. That's fine - just don't make them first class, and don't charge people to watch them - not that many will be watching on Thursday.

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