January 26, 2012

A sinister conspiracy against county cricket

Sunday, 22nd January Like many cricket watchers, I have whined on incessantly about how boring modern Test pitches are

Sunday, 22nd January Like many cricket watchers, I have whined on incessantly about how boring modern Test pitches are. Who cares if the game lasts five days if we’re asleep for four of them? Well, like a bank that has been recently been bailed out by the government at a time of low economic growth, I should now start giving credit where it’s due. The groundsmen of the world deserve a prolonged hurrah.

They deserve all three cheers and more, for letting the grass grow, leaving the hose pipe on, inserting mattress springs below the top soil or whatever it is that they do to make things more interesting, whilst all the time under pressure to do precisely the opposite. In what other sport would the phrase “result pitch” cause widespread administrative frowning and monocles to pop from the eyes of officials?

So when Gautam Gambhir today said Indian pitches should be spin-friendly, I was almost entirely in agreement. Dry, dusty, cracked surfaces on which spinners can cause the ball to move sideways to a preposterous degree is precisely what you should expect when you go to India, just as you should look forward to soggy ankles in England and broken noses in the Caribbean. That’s how it should be.

There’s nothing wrong with what he said. The problem, sadly not for the first time this winter, is his timing. Talking boldly about what may happen in several months’ time on a different continent creates the unfortunate impression that he’s already thinking of going home. Rather than reassuring Indian fans that their team will be hard to beat in Kanpur, could he give them some reason to be optimistic about Adelaide?

Tuesday, 24th January A few years ago it was conventional wisdom to regard the County Championship as a chuckleworthy remnant of bumbling amateurism, a repository of mediocrity, the nasty damp patch that was the source of English cricket’s rot. It belonged in the wheelie bin of history, like fox-hunting, the Conservative party, and putting offal in pies.

But now that England are No. 1, we realise that the Championship is in fact the attractive flowery tattoo on the bee’s knee, and civilisation’s greatest achievement since the invention of the sherry trifle. In just six seasons this fine nursery of talent has, in exchange for around £150 million, produced literally two new Test-match ready batsmen, only one of whom was born and raised in South Africa.

There are some dissenters, but they are mostly extremists; obscure bloggers, England internationals, you know the type. Take this comment from someone called “Alastair Cook”. Asked recently whether he felt the success of the England team was directly linked to the county system, he said, “I don’t think it is, to be totally honest.”

But what does he know?

Still, we shouldn’t be complacent, because the Championship is under serious threat. A sinister cabal of 18 troublemakers in boring ties, known simply as “The Chairmen” are plotting to replace it with three months of Twenty20 and three months of Forty40, whilst siphoning millions into unnecessary seating and hideous hospitality blocks in a grandiose scheme to make every county ground an international venue.

In this conspiracy, David Morgan is just a patsy. Behind the grassy knoll, you’ll find the chairmen of Bankruptshire, Kolpackchestershire and Subsidyshire waiting for the Championship to drive past in an open-top limo, passing the time by colouring in the dollars in their official 2012 Champions League colouring books.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England