IPL, county cricket: you can enjoy both, you know
For cricket obsessives determined to keep up with all the latest play, the past few months have been a long haul. International tours have been scheduled against each other. High profile domestic tournaments have overlapped them both. A Test match in one country has been followed later that day by a one-day international in another, with a new Twenty20 tournament springing up overnight to fill the couple of hours in between. All narrated by a never-ending human centipede of television commentators ramming home how their match is essential viewing for the discerning viewer who hasn't yet had their cerebral cortex overloaded by the wall-to-wall coverage on offer. For the cricket fan who only needs four hours of sleep a night, we're living in a golden age.
But for those of us who have other things to do - a book to read, a pint to drink, a work anecdote from a family member to pretend to be interested in - it's been a relief over the last week or so to have a break from the relentless schedule of world cricket. A precious few days when the Live Scores section of the Cricinfo Chrome add-on has read "No major matches going on". A rather dismissive appraisal of the Sri Lankan and West Indian domestic fixtures actually being played perhaps, but a reflection of a rare period when Chris Gayle hasn't been bullying a T20 attack or Australia giving out Test caps to players still hungover from celebrating their first-class debut.
But like all lulls, it has to be broken. The sixth season of the IPL exploded into life yesterday, and a week later the County Championship will take a more leisurely stroll to the middle for the start of their five-and-a-half month long competition.
Of all the scheduling clashes found during the cricketing year, this is the one I find most annoying. But not for the reasons you might expect from a county cricket fan. Certainly not from a complaint that international players who once graced the start of the English season will now be in India. That is inevitable. In sport, as in life, money talks and the kind of money found in the IPL has a hell of a set of lungs.
My annoyance is at the lazy pre-rehearsed arguments that often break out in England at this time of year on message boards and in comment sections of articles between fans of T20 and lovers of first-class cricket.
T20 isn't proper cricket, it's hit and giggle. County cricket is boring; a game watched by and cared for by no one. And so on, and so on...
There are differences between the formats, of course, a different feel to the games. T20 can seem like sex without the foreplay and sometimes first-class cricket can seem more like foreplay without the sex. But both are cricket. Both have a right to exist. Both serve a vital purpose within the game as a whole. T20 as a source of income that, provided it's not overexploited, can keep the game financially viable while fighting for the attention of the most distracted generation in history. And for all the money international boards throw at their academies, domestic first-class cricket remains the crucible that fuses talent to experience, preparing it for a larger stage. To decry the existence of either format, to casually dismiss its tournaments, shows a lack of understanding of the modern game bordering on wilful ignorance.
And yet you still find the two sets of fans, sitting in entrenched positions, barking hackneyed arguments at each other.
I find myself sitting somewhere in the middle while those arguments pass me by, as I love first-class cricket, but still enjoy T20. Ok, I perhaps tend to only dip in and out of overseas T20 competitions, watching a few games and then the final, as I find them too long to follow when I don't have a horse in the race. And the idea of picking a team to support from a list of unfamiliar names feels strange to someone raised in the English tribal tradition of supporting your local team.
Yet there's something about hearing those same old arguments break out again that's pushed me into changing that reticence to engage fully with T20. That's why this season I'll be Mumbai Indians' newest fan. After all, they've got Sachin. Twenty years on from watching him bat for my county side at the start of his career, it feels like coming full circle to support him as he plays for his local team towards the end of his playing days.
So I'll try to watch every Mumbai game in IPL 2013, follow where they are in the table and hopefully not curse them with my patronage. And I'll still support my county side just as closely and hope the lure of the IPL doesn't eventually see players they've spent years developing unavailable to them during the English season.
I'll follow both competitions because despite the scheduling clash, enjoying one doesn't preclude you from enjoying the other. If anyone wants to argue it does, I'll let them waste their breath whilst I support both my teams and still find time to read the occasional book, drink the occasional pint and appear fascinated by the latest work anecdote being told at the dinner table.
Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses