County view July 17, 2007

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

The County Championship returned last week from its Twenty20 break and gave a further insight into the different mindsets among teams, once again raising the issue of the points system in the Championship



Shane Warne is willing to risk losing a game if it means he has a chance of winning © Getty Images
Sometimes cricket matches meander to draws. It can't be helped. The weather can intervene or pitches can be too flat to for one side to take 20 wickets. But there is nothing worse than a game drifting aimlessly along because neither side wants to risk losing in order to win.

The County Championship returned last week from its Twenty20 break and gave a further insight into the different mindsets among teams, once again raising the issue of the points system in the Championship. At Old Trafford the Roses match lost its first two days to the weather, leaving Lancashire and Yorkshire to battle for batting and bowling points. Yorkshire nicked it nine points to eight thanks to Adil Rashid, but if either captain had really wanted to go for an outright win the opportunity was still there.

Two hundred and twenty miles south at The Rose Bowl rain also played a leading role and come the last day Warwickshire were still in their first innings. But Shane Warne and Darren Maddy set up a run-chase and Hampshire reached 331 with four balls to spare. Some say Maddy, in his first season as captain, was sucked into accepting an easier target by the experience of Warne - and there is certainly some truth in that - but both captains wanted a match where there was a chance of a winner.

Back at Old Trafford, Yorkshire were bowled out for 320 shortly before lunch on the final day. Lancashire started their first innings, but with a little initiative an afternoon chase could have been agreed; 321 in around 70 overs - with Stuart Law, Brad Hodge and Mal Loye taking on Rashid, Darren Gough and Jason Gillespie - would have been compelling viewing. It wasn't to be, partly because of a safety-first attitude with Division One being so tight and partly because both teams could walk away with a few handy bonus and draw points.

The four points for a draw were brought into the Championship as a way of trying to encourage teams to battle to the end to save a game. In the past, if a side was out of contention they lost nothing by 'finishing' the game in a hurry and having some extra time off. Nowadays those four points can make a huge difference but, while it has made the unedifying practice of lob-ups and long-hops a rare sight, it means teams are less likely to set fourth-innings targets and keep a match alive. The problem now is that a full haul of bonus points and a draw (12 points) isn't a bad four days' work. Warwickshire won the Championship in 2004 by playing the system to perfection, but it certainly wasn't thrilling to watch.

Nowadays those four points can make a huge difference but, while it has made the unedifying process of lob-ups and long-hops being fed to batsmen a rare sight, it means teams are less likely to set fourth-innings targets and keep a match alive

At Chelmsford, in Division Two, there was a match to keep the statisticians happy as Nottinghamshire hit 791 in reply to Essex's 700. The final day consisted of a career-best 240 from Chris Read and Nottinghamshire improving their over-rate at the end of the match. This was an example where the pitch beat everyone - if a run-chase had been offered the team batting would have had a huge advantage - but it made for meaningless cricket.

There needs to be more incentive to win. In Australia there are no batting and bowling points - just two for a first-innings lead and four for a win - and as Greg Blewett said, while commentating on the Roses match, it encourages teams to try and find a way of making a positive result. It also helps that the mentality down under is generally more aggressive and positive by nature and a team will only play for a draw as a last resort.

Warne has brought that attitude to Hampshire. Sometimes he has gambled and failed, but he sticks to his belief that a team should never stop trying to win. He gets angry when opposition refuse to play ball as happened, at the end of last season, against Lancashire when they batted on at The Rose Bowl.

County captains tread a fine line, not wanting to give an inch to the other side. If Chilton or Gough walk away with the Championship trophy in September they will feel vindicated, but if providing entertainment was any criteria Warne would already have one hand on the prize.

One step closer

The first prize of the domestic season comes a match nearer today with the Twenty20 quarter-finals. The defending champions, Leicestershire, haven't made it - more down to the weather than poor form - and neither have the two other winners, Surrey and Somerset, so there will be a different name in the trophy come August 4 at Edgbaston.

There are some interesting match-ups over the next two days and all the sides with home advantage will fancy their chances. Sussex, led by Luke Wright's 298 runs, have finally found a formula that works for them and with the spin twins of Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq, they will be tough to beat. But Gough loves a challenge.

However, the romantics might wish a little bit of luck on Worcestershire at Bristol. It hasn't been an easy few weeks for the club - whatever the rights and wrongs of trying to stage the Championship game at New Road - and a place in Finals Day would ease some of their financial problems. Let's hope it doesn't rain.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo