Sussex to play friendly in late March
It was a little more than a generation ago that the first-class cricket season started in the final days of April and ended a week into September, with the Gillette Cup final providing the season finale.
But the pressure of cramming more fixtures and competitions into the summer has resulted in the season gradually extending itself at either end. It now starts in mid April and carries on into the extremely autumnal days of late September - just four days short of a six-month campaign.
This season officially begins on April 8 at Lord's when MCC meet Warwickshire, the champion county, at Lord's. Although the weather can be fairly pleasant, anything other than blue skies usually has the few die-hards who turn up huddling together for warmth and members clustered around radiators in the Long Room.
But this year those desperate to see some cricket in the flesh - and possibly to risk hospitalisation with chilblains as well - can start earlier than ever as a number of counties embark on pre-season friendlies. The bravest scheduling comes from Sussex, who kick-off with a three-day match against Nottinghamshire at Hove on March 29!
The next day, it's all systems go at Derby where Worcestershire play a two-day game. Yorkshire, foolishly, start on April 1 with a three-day friendly against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, and on the same day Middlesex travel to Chelmsford to take on Essex.
Some counties, however, have opted for preparing in warmer climates. Durham will spend a week in Dubai from March 31, which is sensible, given the weather that greeted David Boon in 1999. The snows that fell on that occasion, however, came more than two weeks after the projected start to the 2005 season.