August 31, 2012

Make the most of what's left

It’s been a miserable, wet summer for spectators

It’s been a miserable, wet summer for spectators. And over so soon.

Say what you like about Twenty20 Finals Day but it’s certainly carved out a niche for itself in the sporting calendar. Four teams, four sets of fans and three games all crammed into a single day’s play. A hundred-and-twenty-overs of cricket played at breakneck speed. And unless next year’s SuperBowl is being staged at San Diego Comic-Con I can’t think of too many sporting occasions that afford the Cosplay community quite the same chance to feel at home.

That’s right, sports nerds, you can watch Dimitri Mascarenhas bowl dibbly-dobbly medium pace and a man dressed as one of the Viz pathetic sharks jump into a ball-pit while you sit in the stands disguised as The Green Lantern. Nobody will bat an eyelid. Not even Batman himself, who’s probably sitting next to you.

But it’s the chance for counties to qualify for the Champions League and with it a potential share of the $6 million prize fund that makes Finals Day so important to the players. And why not? Competing against Trinidad & Tobago in South Africa is as close to being windswept and interesting as most county pros will manage during their careers. “I’m playing in Johannesburg next month” sounds a damn sight more likely to impress the trainee nurse you’ve cornered in Wetherspoons than the everyday reality of being stuck in a county dressing room while your opening bowler moans about his corns.

And for supporters of this year’s qualifying teams, Hampshire and Yorkshire, there’s the prospect of following a competition devoid of intervention from the weather – getting to see some cricket played being the crucial element missing from most of this season’s spectator experience.

With the tournament hosted by South Africa there’s also no need to stay up half the night to follow the progress of English counties. No temptation for those without a Sky subscription to forgo the delights of trying to find a pub with a big screen TV that isn’t dominated by football coverage. No excuse to succumb instead to the allure of pirate websites streaming the live action.

Websites that have already been identified by Giles Clarke as ‘the biggest danger’ facing the game. More so than climate change, apparently. So next time you’re flouting gently past the Ladies Pavilion at New Road watching Alan Richardson swim in to bowl from his marker buoy at the Diglis End, remember to think to yourselves, “ok, the weather’s not great but it least no ex-pats in Spain can watch this on t’internet.”

If you are tempted to use one of those streaming site, they may be living on borrowed time anyway as the ECB has already had hundreds of them taken offline. I’d like to think they still do that the old-fashioned way I imagine English cricket has always tackled problems - by releasing teams of winged monkeys from a dark tower behind the Lord’s pavilion. In reality they probably just get their lawyers to submit a breach of copyright takedown notice. But that’s modern corporate practise for you. No romance.

But however supporters manage to follow the Champions League it’s unlikely many will be able to afford to do so in person. For most the only chance they have to watch their county side play is by dodging the weather in what’s left of the English summer.

Because Twenty20 Finals Day is the culmination of one competition but also a signal that the other two are nearing their climax. It’s a kick up the backside, a reminder that the season is almost over and that if you want to watch some more county cricket this year you’d better do it soon.

We’ve already seen an end to the interminable group stages of the CB40, meaning there are only three one-day games left in 2012. Whilst for most counties there’s just a single home game in the Championship to go as well. Four days cricket within reasonable distance for spectators. Four chances left to watch some live action.

To rip off an old Woody Allen joke - it’s been a miserable, wet summer for spectators. And over so soon.

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