April 4, 2012

'Goodbye to the park bench'

Kenny Shovel

My name is Kenny Shovel and I'm determined to have my say ...

I hate winter, with its interminable months of feigning interest in New Zealand v Sri Lanka, failing to find pattern or logic in the coming summer’s fixture list, and wondering which players will need to take a long hard look at themselves after only giving 109% during pre-season training. With no live cricket to watch, the closest you get to a day at the county ground is drinking beer on a deserted park bench. Although without the threat of somebody in a high visibility tabard insisting you move out of the family friendly seating, it’s just not the same.

Fortunately you can always rely on the ECB to prepare you for summer, as their ability to bend the light of common sense round the gravity well of modern sports administration has long since turned English cricket’s regular bouts of domestic restructuring madness into an unwanted New Year surprise.

Their latest attempt to herd 18 cats towards water, the Morgan Review, has proved as welcome with supporters as a postal order from Allen Stanford. I forget the exact small print - something about umpires dressing as the Banana Splits during T20 games and leg-side boundaries scoring Pi, I think – but the headline change was the proposed reduction in first-class matches. Given the Championship is the one part of the English season that spectators around the county circuit believe works well, it’s little wonder plans to change it were greeted with the enthusiasm normally reserved for a dentist who’s offered to mend your bridging work by punching you in the face.

Of course, no one would suggest that the English domestic season is perfect. It’s clearly in need of better organisation. Ask supporters for suggestions and you’ll get a list as long as Joel Garner’s arm. The trouble is, no one ever does bother to ask them. The Morgan Review was supposedly a result of extensive consultation. But who did they ask? County CEO’s, coaches, sponsors, various media outlets, Larry Mullen Jr, the cast and crew of hit American show Cougar Town, but relatively few spectators. Certainly no large-scale canvassing of opinion. As fans, we’re just the ones who are expected to turn up year after year, pay our money, and accept that the game isn’t played for our benefit. Because if ignoring your existing supporter base was cool, county cricket would be the Miles Davis of sport.

It’s an attitude that feeds into the dysfunctional nature of the English game. The two major branches, Team England and the county circuit, have a mutual dependence, with the counties needing money generated by international cricket to be financially viable, and the England side reliant on the counties to develop experienced players capable of performing at the highest level. Yet for county supporters it’s a relationship that feels overwhelmingly one-sided, with the Championship itself - supposedly the jewel in the crown of the domestic game - shown a distinct lack of respect as it’s shoved ever earlier into the unpredictable weather of April to make way for a T20 competition where games come so thick and fast that they disenfranchise fans on a budget and leave anyone who doesn’t enjoy the format with a month in the middle of summer that’s cricket free.

More frustration comes at just how far down the pecking order county cricket finds itself when it comes to player availability. As priority is given not only to appearances for England, but also England Lions, England U-19’s, strength and conditioning camps, IPL, IPL strength and conditioning camps, and invitations to Giles Clarke’s midsummer Hawaiian luau. Avoid all that and, should Andy Flower feel inclined, your county just might get to field a player it’s been developing since he was a pre-teen. Little wonder that some county supporters have an ambivalence boarding on hostility towards Team England; hardly a development that’s in the best interests of the game.

Yet for all that, county cricket continues to survive, ambling along as it’s always done. The one man and his dog image remains largely an exaggeration from those who don’t watch domestic cricket. Concerns about the age demographic of supporters that attend games are exactly the same as when I first started watching cricket thirty years ago. Chances are they’ll still be the same in another thirty years’ time, when the generation currently following the county game from their work computers are making up the crowd.

Not that I’ll be waiting that long. Come April 5 I’ll be sitting in the stands waiting for the first ball of summer. And that moment is just round the corner now.

Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses

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Posted by Madelly on (April 8, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

Sorry,chaps, but it's all about brass. Just ask the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. I love my county cricket all the way from Australia.

Posted by Kenny_Shovel on (April 8, 2012, 10:31 GMT)

All: thanks for your comments and best luck to your county in the current season.

Hawke: Who, Sir? Len, Sir? Me, Sir? I shall make sure to pop back to the corridor this season.

Dev Spec: There is a county cricket supporters association, set up by George Dobell. Details can be found here: http://cricketsupportersassociation.org.uk/

Posted by Dev Spec on (April 7, 2012, 12:01 GMT)

Great to hear that there are many others who love real county cricket. Is there a supporters' organisation to advance the cause, fight its enemies and provide a rapid rebuttal service to the knockers?

Posted by Hawke on (April 7, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

Kenny, I think you had just departed the independent Yorkshire CCC supporters message board ' The Corridor of Uncertainty' when I joined. I found out yesterday that you were responsible for the marvellous Len the Kitman website. Again I just discovered it as you were closing it down. It was terrific but possibly little known. Look forward to your blogs. Feel free to occasionally wander down the corridor again whenever you wish.

Posted by AndreT000 on (April 4, 2012, 21:01 GMT)

Impressive commitment, in the stands on the day before season starts. Hope you had plenty of beef tea Kenny man.

Posted by Andrew Dennis on (April 4, 2012, 20:05 GMT)

The county championship is much maligned and has produced some incredible end of season finales and high quality cricket especially in the first division. Last season I watched Kent play a couple of times last season. I watched Steve Finn roar in from one end, when Middlesex visited, and paid about a tenner for a brilliant day's cricket. The was a decent sized crowd too - something that gets forgotten when all the cliched reports mentioning 'two men and a dog' get trotted out. Coverage of the Championship is much better than it used to be, 5 Live taking the final round of matched seriously, continued excellent coverage in newspapers like The Times and Daily Telegraph, and indepth coverage on the BBC website and cricinfo. My message to the ECB would be to protect the sanctity of the Championship, play more matches at weekends as they seem to be doing this month, and get rid of the league-based 40 over contest and make it knockout instead.

Posted by Anonymous on (April 4, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

Absolutely correct about the one man and his dog stereotype which is damaging; I went to Southport for Lancs v Notts last year - virtually full. This season? no match and CEO Cumbes says he had wanted all eight home matches to be played at OT where 1500 supporters make the ground appear sparsely occupied.

Posted by Peter Huntington on (April 4, 2012, 16:55 GMT)

Good blog. The County Champoinship is very competitive, helped England get to Test number one slot and is the peak of the domestic game. A 14 match Championship would literally turn it into a lottery. It ain`t brpoke. It don`t need fixing.

Posted by Les Smith on (April 4, 2012, 15:38 GMT)

Spot on. I'm excited about the new county season, but disappointed that the pattern of the season is no clearer than it was last year, or the year before that, or the year.......

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Hawksworth
Dave Hawksworth has been in a relationship with cricket for over 30 years. During that time he's seen Ken Rutherford score 300 before tea, Geoff Boycott hit the first ball of the day for a boundary, and drunk a lot of beer. He's never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses.

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