Warwickshire v Kent, Royal London Cup, Edgbaston September 4, 2014

Warwickshire return to Lord's, but English cricket should worry


Warwickshire 219 for 4 (Trott 58, Ambrose 51*, Chopra 50) beat Kent 215 for 8 (Billings 40*, Rankin 3-34) by six wickets

The contrasting expressions on the faces of the players told the story: whatever the gentle decline in popularity of county cricket over the last couple of decades, the prospect of a Lord's final still means a great deal. Warwickshire, winners of the NatWest T20 Blast not two weeks ago, go to the home of cricket with a chance of achieving a notable double.

So what a shame this game was witnessed by so few. Despite Warwickshire's best efforts - tickets cost a maximum of £10 and members of both clubs and U16s were let in free - there were fewer than 3,000 spectators inside the ground.

Compare that with a similar match from the not so distance past. In 1994, these sides met on the same ground in the semi-final of the NatWest Trophy. On that occasion a crowd of around 14,000 created a memorable atmosphere. Somewhere along the way, the game has stopped engaging with the mass market.

This was a match that might be used as a microcosm of much that is wrong in English cricket. On a decent but worn pitch - again, that is not fault of the groundsmen, there are simply no fresh surfaces available at this stage of the season - that will bear no comparison to the surfaces anticipated at the World Cup in Australasia, on a weekday during the school term and in between two high-profile international games on the same ground within the week, there is simply not the time or the appetite for spectators to attend. The schedule is bloated and broken.

It is increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that, almost a decade after the game all but disappeared from free-to-air television, a decade after central contracts and the increased international schedule snatched the best players from the domestic circuit, cricket is dying in England. Or at least slipping into gentle irrelevance. Like Morris dancing and origami.

Such is the gradual drop in spectator numbers, that this may go unnoticed. But we are fools if we ignore the empty seats at Durham when the Ashes were won, the empty seats in Southampton during the India Test, the drop in average gate numbers for the re-launched NatWest Blast, the reliance on foreign-raised or privately educated players in teams up and down the land and the decline in space offered to the game by newspapers. No amount of hubris can replace the oxygen of publicity. Eden is burning and if the management of the ECB are unwilling to acknowledge and confront the issue, they will have failed in their duty as custodians of the game.

And yet, as this game demonstrated, there is still quality to enjoy. Despite the absence of three first choice bowlers - Chris Woakes, Chris Wright and Keith Barker - Warwickshire demonstrated skill and variety with the ball and athleticism and commitment in the field. While this was not the high-scoring encounter that might have been desired of a show-piece domestic fixture, there was still entertainment to be derived from Warwickshire's masterclass in limited-overs bowling on a pitch a little better than the low scores might suggest.

Boyd Rankin, bowling with the pace and hostility that must have Ireland supporters banging their heads in frustration, claimed three wickets - including both openers due to extra bounce - and struck Alex Blake on the helmet in an impressively sustained spell of fast bowling that earned the Man-of-the-Match award.

Jeetan Patel and Rikki Clarke demonstrated the skill and control that has played such a huge part in their side's progress and Recordo Gordon and Oliver Hannon-Dalby bowled with a maturity that belied their relative inexperience. With Kent restricted to a score perhaps 30 below par, the game was all but over as a contest long before Warwickshire began their reply.

Certainly Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott were made for run-chases such as this. The pair batted with composure in adding 110 for Warwickshire's second wicket, with Trott compiling 50 from 49 balls with those characteristic clips through midwicket and a series of reverse-sweeps that once won many games for England. By rotating the strike with calm skill on the same pitch on which England were suffocated by India on Tuesday, he provided a reminder of what England had been missing in recent months.

While both men will be disappointed that they failed to see their side home, Tim Ambrose, an often under-rated talent, made sure of the victory with a typically busy half-century.

Perhaps, had Sam Billings - averaging more than 100 in the competition this season - batted higher than No. 8, Kent may have given themselves a batter chance. As it was, by the time he reached the crease in the 38th over, the damage was too deep to be repaired.

And perhaps, had Daniel Bell-Drummond, who scored three half-centuries in six games in the qualifying rounds, been selected ahead of Rob Key or Fabian Cowdrey, they may have a little more firepower.

As it was, Kent struggled to adjust to the surface and, in attempting to post 260, failed to reach the 240 that may have proved adequate. Until Billings thrashed 23 from his final nine deliveries and helped Kent ad 26 from their final two overs, no batsman passed 34 and provided the foundation on which his colleagues might have built.

With Ian Bell and Woakes expected to be fit and available, Warwickshire will present tough opposition in the final. Twenty years after the club completed a remarkable treble of trophies, the class of 2014 are proving worthy successors.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2014, 23:00 GMT

    what about the massive growth in crickets online presence? tickets are incredibly expensive but cricket online is easy and free so i'd be interested to see what being able to follow in such depth online has done for cricket

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2014, 20:43 GMT

    Lots of factors have played a part here. The game in 1994 was pre 20:20, it was scheduled before the football season and it was in the school holidays. For cricket to get decent crowds it really needs to use a bit of common sense. I'm an avid Warwickshire fan and have been for years. I really wanted to support them on Thursday but I was working The last 2 championship games are scheduled with all 4 days landing in the middle of the working week. Brainless! I'd also say that Counties need to look after the paying public much better. Warwickshire had a scheduled game at Rugby School this year in the 50 overs competition. Great support from the town lead to a sell out crowd, but unfortunately the weather was dreadful and it was a complete washout. No refunds! just the churlish and rubbish offer of alternative tickets. yep! you've guessed it! For the 2 mid week games I've already mentioned!! If clubs expect support then they need to support us too!!

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2014, 13:07 GMT

    @ AckaBilk - (I don't/won't have Sky - that's a separate issue) But... I have to agree with you - Sky in their wisdom - cover the match, but don't report it on the News Sports sections. Can't get my head round that one! Seems down-right crazy to be at a match - and not use your team for an insert to your rolling news output! My point is - cricket as far as Sky is concerned - isn't NEWS! Not too sure about this, but I wonder if that attitude is also connected to crowd numbers.

  • Gareth on September 6, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    Looks a poor crowd at Durham today as well.

    Both games being on Sky not a help, but biggest factor is surely that the ties were only determined last Friday - many people will already have committments 6 days before the event

  • Jason on September 6, 2014, 6:40 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer, couldn't agree more, unfortunately its about perceived income, is it better to have 1 game with 9000 or 10 group games with 3000. if the tickets are the same price, you get just over 3 times the revenue. ITs a good idea to help develop other OD teams, in the EU, but I would have them go through a premliminary round with the Minor counties with the top N teams going through to meet the counties.

    I would also switch the T20's to Saturday afternoon like football, 3pm start, that way families can attend, after doing Saturday chores as its difficult to leave work get home pick up the kids and get back to the ground for 6pm.

  • Jon on September 5, 2014, 21:56 GMT

    It is actually refreshing to see that a lot of people commenting here do actually understand the problems our cricket is facing and the danger our game is in right now. English cricket needs an iconic hero right now. There has been no cricketer since Freddie who has captured the imagination of the public. The professionalism of the ECB setup and the constant media line the players have to take has somehow created a distance between national cricketers and the general public. The game needs someone who everyone can relate to and someone the kids will try and emulate in the back garden. KP had it in sparts but we need a Mitchell Johnson, David Warner or even an AB Devilliers figure. I know we are speaking about county cricket here but our game needs a character to get the kids interested which in turn will hopefully get them through the gates at county games. Look at the Sachin effect on Indian cricket. I can't see anyone that fits the bill right now I'm afraid. It is a shame.

  • Jon on September 5, 2014, 21:46 GMT

    Good article, it is something I have been banging on about for a while now too. I coach a lot of cricket at club level and notice each year we have to work harder and harder to attract the same levels of numbers. There are a few factors leading to the lower participation rates I believe. 1 is the fact that football seems to never have a break now, even pre season games are getting televised in the height of summer and kids are being forced to take pre season fitness and pre season tours slap bang in the middle of cricket season. Secondly I agree with a few comments that the game needs some terrestrial airtime. Thridly I think the fact that cricket coaches are not going into schools is a terrible shame. In most state schools you either play club cricket or you don't play at all. Finally I think the lack of any big names in the county games takes away the entertainment value and the product itself is weak. We need better overseas pros for sure.

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    comparison with the 1994 game was tough, that was at least during the school holidays in England, this match wasn't. The demands of TV mean the scheduling of games is designed to suit Sky, which doesn't necessarily suit those supporters going to the games, i.e. the quarter finals were played across 3 days, instead of the same day, to get most viewing time. These fixtures then have to get integrated with other domestic cricket and the live games fitted in against the international fixtures. if they want bigger crowds these fixtures need to be played when people are available, it isn't rocket science. They don't play football fixtures during the working day then complain nobody shows up. The Lords final will be a sell out, a game on a Saturday!

  • Android on September 5, 2014, 20:27 GMT

    Trott was Englands best batsman in 2011 WC .He is needed at that No 3 spot scores faster than cook and more importantly scores .

  • Dummy4 on September 5, 2014, 16:41 GMT

    Have to agree. There are far too many tests and one day internationals each season with the result that they all become non events. I have no interest whatsoever in the current 1 day series with India and wish we could go back to 5 tests in a summer and the touring team actually touring the country. Each test was then an occasion rather than yet another match for the players to fit in.The fixtures this season with no matches on Saturdays and the 50 over matches being played in the evenings seem designed to try and kill off spectator interest completly

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