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They say that Mother Nature can be a fickle mistress and the way she’s treating the current domestic season is certainly reminding me of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. I’m not sure which of the counties has left her feeling spurned and vengeful but they need to make amends before the Twenty20 Finals Day mascot race is ruined when the competitor that most resembles a pet rabbit is found floating face down in a ball pool overflowing with rainwater.
But then this year's Twenty20 has already been floating in the water, so to speak. Prior to the championship break I'd mentioned my concern that a continuation of this summer’s incessant rainfall during the T20 window could have a devastating effect on county finances. Sure enough, the rain kept on falling, resulting in sixteen matches being abandoned without a ball bowled. Spread out amongst the eighteen counties that might sound manageable, but rain, like grass on a club pitch, rarely appears in an even covering. So for a side like Gloucestershire who had two games at Bristol washed out, that left only three home fixtures to generate the same income earned from the eight matches of last year’s larger competition format. It’s hard to see how their finances, along with most other sides on the circuit, aren’t going to be badly hit. Little wonder some counties are starting to favour a T20 competition spread throughout the summer to lessen the affect of a period of inclement weather.
Although that’s not an approach that would have worked this season, as the current “period of inclement weather” could be more accurately described as “2012”. It hit first-class cricket and the CB40 earlier in the year and now the latest round of championship games have seen eleven days play and more than fifteen hundred overs lost. It's left supporters debating how you're supposed to approach playing matches if the rest of the season continues to be threatened by rain. Do you play for first innings bonus points? Or, like Northants and Glamorgan and Gloucestershire and Yorkshire, do you sacrifice some of them with declarations or innings forfeitures in the hope conditions relent for a final day run chase? Both options feel an unsatisfying way to play cricket and it’s leaving me with an uneasy feeling about the championship run in. I’ve no doubt the best teams in both divisions will end up towards the top of the table, but just how much will the final places be determined by weather?
But for all the disruption caused to county games a far greater toll is being taken on Second XI fixtures which are generally played on club grounds and where match after match has had to be abandoned. How can you develop young players ready for first team action when they’re largely restricted to indoor practice? It’s hard to think of many new players who’ve broken into the county game this season with the same impact as Reece Topley and Joe Root in 2011.
That same lack of match practise effects more senior pros trying to regain form and fitness. One of the main reasons behind Steve Harmison’s current loan spell to Yorkshire was a lack of time in the middle for Durham’s Second XI meant he couldn’t force himself back into their first team. And one of the main reasons Yorkshire took him on loan was that when Ryan Sidebottom became injured none of their Second XI bowlers had played enough cricket to be banging on the door for his first team place. In general I think the loan system has been a great success but this particular move illustrates just how bad a season this has been for future player development, because when players are low on match practise, coaches tend to play safe and pick the experienced man.
But then player development is a stick often used to beat county cricket by its many critics. Yet the latest round of county matches managed to produce a player capable of winning England a World Cup. I refer, of course, to Kevin Pietersen. Who, on one of his very rare appearances in the championship, scored a blistering double century in front of a sparse rain-sodden Guildford crowd and was so scarred by the lack of adulation, immediately offered to come out of ODI retirement.
That is the beauty of county cricket. Even in the midst of the worst summer in living memory it can still produce a world class player within the space of four days. Can the Sheffield Shield do that? Exactly. Screw you, Mother Nature; county cricket’s still got it.
Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expensesFeeds: Dave Hawksworth
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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.