May 4, 2014

No cricket on Saturday?

A day off and no good cricket to go to - how's that possible with the jam-packed calendars of today?

Londoners won't be getting a lot of cricketing action on Saturdays this domestic season © Getty Images

On Saturday, I was considering a day off - my first, as you ask, since March 1, and probably my last until July 15. A friend is going away for six weeks on Monday and we had a wedding reception to go to in the evening, so it seemed like, having helped her move out of her flat, it might be a nice idea to get out the picnic hamper, pack it with cheeses and a couple of bottles of decent wine, and head off for a day at The Oval. Or Lord's. Or Hove. Or Canterbury. Or Leicester. Or Chelmsford. Anywhere within an hour and half or so of London: we weren't fussy.

The nature of modern cricket being that everybody's playing all the time for different teams in different competitions in a structure so complex that nobody can hold the schedule in their heads for more than a couple weeks in advance, the specific game we'd watch wasn't much of a concern. That's not why I watch cricket anyway (of course I was delighted Durham won the Championship last year, but I didn't rock back and forth in a chair reminding myself to breathe as I do on the odd occasions Sunderland threaten to do something not rubbish). Of course there'd be a game: this is modern cricket - it's omnipresent.

Eventually I looked up which game we could go to. And it turned out the closest first-class or List A match was in Delhi, which, with the best will in the world, isn't within 90 minutes of my flat. At first, I thought this was an awful stroke of bad luck. Then I checked the schedule for the rest of the season. Northants v Yorkshire on May 31 is the first Saturday Championship game this season. Middlesex have one day of Saturday cricket scheduled at Lord's all summer: a T20 double-header on May 17 - which clashes with the FA Cup final, so not great news for those using the Jubilee line to get to Lord's or Wembley. Surrey start a Championship game against Hampshire on Saturday, June 28, but that's it for Saturday Championship cricket in London. Not only would there be no boozy, cheesy, crickety day off, but there was very little chance there could have been. That might not make Giles Clarke single-handedly responsible for me working 135 days straight, but it does feel like it.

A survey was sent round last year. I messed it up from the off: it asked which county I supported - Durham - then asked how often I went to watch them - once or twice a year. What it didn't ask was which county I go to watch most often - Surrey - and how often I go to watch them - ten to 12 times. So immediately 85% of my cricket-watching was discounted. In my memory the survey then featured a lot of multiple-choice questions along the lines of: "Which of these is preferable? a) County Championship on a Friday for £5; b) T20 on a Tuesday for £20; c) 50-over cricket on a Saturday for £962.40; d) a singing reindeer with a donation bucket on the third Wednesday of every second month excluding December when he'll be busy."*

(*"Please note: depending on IPL commitments, he may also be busy in April and May.")

I dutifully filled it in, although I confess by the end the range of possibilities of days and prices had rather exhausted me and by the end my brain was so addled I might have been voting for Championship games to be extended to 17 innings per side for which I'd pay £3000 on a Thursday. That, frankly, troubles me: the truth is that most of the time I wouldn't care about watching cricket on a Saturday. At weekends I tend to be working on football and, besides, that's when other people watch cricket, which rather spoils the illusion I can entertain at most county games, which is that that the two teams and umpires have turned up to perform specifically for me. Other people talk and move and exist, and generally speaking I'm not that keen on them. So it is possible that I ticked some box on that survey that said "as little Championship cricket as possible on a Saturday". But I doubt it.

I do recognise that sizeable crowds are necessary for the financial viability of the game (I'd just rather not be part of them). I presume the lack of Saturday cricket is a result of the Friday T20s, which in themselves seem an excellent idea. Obviously it would be absurd if, say, Durham played a T20 game in Taunton on a Friday night and then had to race back to Chester-le-Street for a Championship game the next morning against Yorkshire, who themselves had just played a T20 in Cardiff, but is it really beyond the wit of the schedulers to avoid that?

Assuming the vast majority of the potential audience are more likely to be available at weekends (maybe that isn't the case, maybe I'm not being solipsistic enough - although it seems improbable - and most people who watch county cricket are either retired or freelance journalists), it seems bizarre for the Championship to be denied Saturday crowds in London. Could none of those Sunday starts have been brought forward a day?

Maybe I'm just being selfish. Maybe what I really want is cricket always to be going on so I can dip on when I feel like it, but the thought of a day off without at least the option of spending it getting gently sozzled in an empty stand just doesn't seem right.

Jonathan Wilson writes for the Guardian, the National, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. He tweets here