August 24, 2012

England demands wreck climax to county season

And so another summer of Test cricket has reached its conclusion

And so another summer of Test cricket has reached its conclusion. The infuriatingly abridged three-match series against South Africa has been lost 2-0. England outplayed. Their reputation for planning and preparation undermined by determined batting, quality fast bowling and modern forms of communication that allow you to instantly converse with thousands of people across the globe but are seemingly incapable of passing the message “I’ll buy you a beer if you stop being a prat” to a team-mate at the other side of the dressing room.

For a second successive year we have witnessed the No. 1-ranked Test side dethroned, with South Africa now rightfully acknowledged as the best cricket side in the world: an abundantly talented team, well led and deserving of nothing but admiration. Yet somehow the sight of Graeme Smith parading the ICC Test mace on The Oval outfield left me hoping that the NASA Curiosity mission to Mars was the first faltering step towards finding another habitable planet on which to rebuild humanity. Perhaps that’s just disappointment?

In years gone by that kind of dissatisfaction at a series defeat would have been partially numbed by the knowledge that a month of the County Championship was left to be played out. A month of games in which England players would take full part. A month when rest was a four-letter word.

There are still three rounds of the Championship, Twenty20 finals day and the conclusion of the CB40 to be played this season. But there’ll be precious little opportunity to see England players turning out for their county side as the demands of the international schedule encroach ever more on to the domestic cricket.

The extent of that was laid bare by Wednesday’s ECB announcement about player availability for the rest of the season. It was a list as long as Steve Finn’s arm and as sobering as the role call scene at the end of Zulu. Twenty players missing for most or all of the remainder of the season. Twenty!

Particularly hard hit are Nottinghamshire. As thanks to five of their first team being in the England Twenty20 squad they’ll go into their final Championship game against Warwickshire severely weakened – a situation compounded by Warwickshire having Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Chris Woakes cleared to play in what could still prove to be the deciding match of this year’s County Championship.

Given the importance of that game you’d expect it to be the one covered as Sky’s traditional final Championship match of the season. Frustrating then that on a rare opportunity for the domestic first-class game to get some national media exposure, what should be a set piece contest between two of this year’s top counties will be overshadowed and unbalanced by England demands.

But then that is the lot of the Championship: a contest that can be pushed to one side to make way for more profitable forms of the game; a contest that’s as much ignored by the ICC Future Tours Programme as common sense or the need for international players to have a home life.

Not all of that can be laid at the door of the ECB, of course. It’s not their fault that Nottinghamshire have produced a crop of quality one-day players. And I doubt they have much more say in the scheduling of the World Twenty20 than they do the content of Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed.

But they could at least communicate player availability in a clear, consistent manner. Whether Yorkshire would agree they achieve that is debatable, as the announcement that Tim Bresnan was unavailable for Twenty20 finals day was at odds with the county’s previous understanding that he could play and came as an unpleasant shock for a side preparing for their first ever appearance on finals day.

Perhaps that was just a genuine misunderstanding when the ECB press release was first drafted - it’s worth noting that it has now been re-worded to reflect Yorkshire’s original understanding - but it does highlight the need for more effective communication, whether it be with a county relying on the return of a key allrounder or with a talented, unsettled individual.

Which brings us back to one man who has been made available for the remainder of the county programme – Kevin Pietersen. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for old Kev hasn’t it? Not least his appearance for Surrey at Southampton on Sunday, which was greeted by boos from a section of the crowd followed by cheers from most of it when he was dismissed for a golden duck.

That kind of reception is perhaps understandable given Pietersen’s record of seven Championship appearances during his six years at Hampshire, which didn’t leave the supporters feeling he was the most committed player they’ve ever had on their books. What will be more revealing is his reception elsewhere on the circuit.

KP may be no stranger to a hostile crowd – he’s twice toured his native South Africa - but will someone who sees himself as a leading man be content to be county cricket’s pantomime villain? If Pietersen’s time as an England international is at an end, we may also be seeing the end of him in English cricket as a whole.

There might be some who welcome that, but Pietersen is a rare talent, one who could help shine a spotlight on county cricket at a time when world class players are rarely made available.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 22:48 GMT

    On Giles's dual role, if the other national selectors felt that Giles was favouring not selecting his own players its unlikely he would be in his role for much longer, and as Ian said Chopra and especially Woakes wouldn't play so many Lions games. The scheduling does feel wrong, specifically with the Lions games around the crucial stages of the season but in Woakes' case he will have played 8 matches this season, half missing from injury and half from Lions and being an unused player in ODI squads - that hardly strikes me as favouring his own county. Warwickshire will also be without Porterfield and Rankin with their involvement with Ireland in the T20 tournament and have lost their overseas bowler Jeetan Patel for 3 of the last 4 games so all counties are affected by call ups, its just on this occassion Warwickshire got the rub of the green and on other occassions they do not.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 22:38 GMT

    We all lose player, every large county, just like we are all variably effected by the weather, its one of the facts of cricketing life. Somerset are my team, therefore I can only really accurately comment on our situation, but we have lost Butler, Keiswetter, George Dockrell to full call ups, Nick Compton for the Lions and the Overtons on Junior International call up. This is in an already injury ravaged season, but it happens and you have to be proud of your counties players having made it to the highest stage rather than complaining about lost opportunities in a championship that is more than partially decided by the propensity for rain that year.

    P.S I cannot believe that Notts fans appear to have been reduced to pretending that it is a conspiracy to deny them the championship orchestrated by Ashley Giles, I mean anyone who witnessed him bowl could never believe he could orchestrate anything at all.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 18:29 GMT

    Even if Giles is not, and never has abused his position, such a conflict of interest is not acceptable.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 18:12 GMT

    Notts may have known that Broad and Taylor had England potential, but they did at least develop that potential and should be congratulated for it. Similarly, they developed Hales and Patel from the youth set-up, and Swann was nowhere near the best spin bowler in the world when he joined. Mick Newell's got a habit of getting improvement from players with potential, which is a credit not only to Notts, but to England. They even brought Pietersen over and developed him properly to help him become the player he is today. It's a fact of life that they'll lose players for England duty, but they should at least be commended for it, and not sneered at like some "money club" who're just throwing cash around to sign prestige players.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 14:01 GMT

    Bell hasn't played a T20 international since Jan 2011, Trott since Feb 2010. They were never under consideration for the World T20, so releasing them to play for their county once their international season is over is hardly a questionable move. Varun Chopra was pulled out of a crucial CB40 match v Sussex to play a meaningless game for the Lions. If Giles was abusing his position that wouldn't have happened.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    Apologies for any delay in authorizing your comments. I'm only at the keyboard intermittently at the moment.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 13:25 GMT

    A starting point in reducing international cricket would be cutting out pointless series that are designed only to make money and keep SKY happy (I refer of course to this "summer's" Australia tour). I agree that 3 ODIs per tour is plenty. The ridiculous day-night games in England must also end. On the subject of SKY, my objection is not that they cover the international game but that they bought the game of cricket in it's entirety (excluding the dreadful IPL).Surely some live county cricket could be shown for those of us who don't have the "luxury" of a SKY subscription? Particularly now that Mr Murdoch's halo has slipped and he can no longer bash the BBC quite as much!

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    I don't think anyone is saying that Ian, however the conflict of interest is clear to see.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 11:58 GMT

    @ Gordon Todd,

    Don't forget that during the humiliating tour of Australia in 2006-2007 it was only once KP had gone home injured that England kicked on and won the 1 day series.

    It's been an unfortunate year for the county championship as a whole, mainly due to the awful weather. If every county had their superstars available for the final run in, it might still not liven things up as we are currently still being influenced by the higher powers of the English summer. It matters not who the 11 men listed are if they're all sitting in the pavillion.

  • testli5504537 on August 29, 2012, 9:01 GMT

    So England's selection policy is based on ensuring Warwickshire win the title? The US government allowed 9/11 to happen and JFK, Lord Lucan and Diana are alive and well.

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