Positive spin

Only yesterday, at Sky’s only televised County Championship match of the season, David Lloyd was to be found grumbling at the lack of positivity in modern English first-class cricket. Although the Roses match is normally a lure, I’m afraid, Bumble, you were just at the wrong game.

For most teams in the County Championship, it would be fair to say that the days of the sporting declaration have, for the most part, disappeared. This is especially so when the first 5 teams in the top division are within elbows distance of each other. The bonus system, which rewards first innings performances with bat and ball, boosts the meagre four points handed to teams who draw without an over bowled. As such, when Yorkshire were all out this morning for 320, Lancashire merely began their first innings as if there were still days to play.

Shane Warne has brough many things to the County Championship. Yet high on this list must be his forthright version of captaincy. Hampshire are not a team to draw many games, and today was no exception. In a deal that must be applauded, Warne, and Warwickshire counterpart Darren Maddy, arranged a declaration and forfeiture to set up a run chase, which was so closely contested that it took a career best 192* from Michael Carberry to secure the game in the final over for Hampshire.

Does it seem right the Warwickshire are in a worse position for playing a competitive match than either of the Roses teams are after a draw in which the only tension rested in whether Lancashire could make it to their second bowling point before they ran out of overs? Yorkshire’s former captain, Darren Lehmann, was rather vehement on the subject and but two years ago, Warne himself accused David Fulton, then captain of Kent, of handing Nottinghamshire the Championship by refusing to accept such a deal on the last day of the season.

Certainly, the Australian system is far more rewarding of results over ‘score draws’, and the whole point of the extention to four day cricket was to avoid games without victors. However impressive the scorecard of Essex’s game against Nottingham these last four days, neither team showed any hunger for the win over inflated career averages and record breaking. Unfortunately for Chris Read, the two overs he bowled in a final session dedicated to over-rate improvement did not yield him his first wicket in all competitions. That, at least, might have been vaguely entertaining.

The final curtain

The English ‘summer’ finally drew to a close today, at least as far as cricket is concerned. Predictably, Glamorgan were relegated in the Pro40 playoff, where the form 2nd Division side was guaranteed the home advantage in the competition’s rules. While I use the word ‘relegated’, a more accurate description for their performance against Hampshire would probably be ‘thumped’.

As a format, Pro40 has seen quite a bit of stick in the press. As a spectator, I quite enjoyed it as a competition. Certain aspects of our domestic season are to be taken as read. Firstly, we play too much cricket. This comes from the irresolvable situation where players and officials want to play first class cricket, whereas counties want to stage as many one-dayers as possible to draw crowds. Secondly, there are days and periods that simply are not conducive to good cricket, be that due to poor weather or diverted media attention.

Pro40 was tasked with several burdens. It was given the dregs of the season to pull in crowds that were increasingly drawn away by football and frequent showers, and an uphill battle to establish itself as a format. Where I feel it succeeded is in improving dramatically on the 45-over league of last year.

While placed in a part of the season where interest in cricket usually starts to wane, scheduling was quick to ensure that most of a team’s eight matches were played on Sundays. Although questionable as an international format, day/night matches at county level ensure a higher crowd, and sensibly all mid-week games were played with later start times. The decision to drop the amount of overs to 40 is one for which I have the utmost praise. I never understood the need for 45 overs. Especially considering the increased C&G 50-over workload, an extra five overs simply provides a drag on a game struggling to maintain Twenty20’s excitement.

There were also very few dead rubbers. Competition for places both up and down was still hotting up until the last round of fixtures. Although the decision to place the game on the last day of the Ryder Cup weekend lacked a certain amount of sense, the decision to have a playoff added the opportunity to retain a decisive season ender. Considering the third rule of domestic cricket is there is always someone who will disagree with whatever you change, I would much rather that the last ball of the season was bowled in a match that mattered than a game played for the prestige of finishing Nowhere Special, Division 2.

The season draws to a close

Surely it’s not that time again. September? It still feels like mid-May! Yet it’s true; another season draws to a close, and what a hectic summer it has been. I’m off to Southampton on Wednesday to see Lancashire and Hampshire – should be a belting match, one Lancashire need to win if they’re to see off Sussex for the title. What have been your highlights and lowlights of the summer?

Doctor who? Doctor Warne?

It’s been a mixed birthday for Shane Warne. As far as play was concerned, Warne managed to find himself en route to hospital earlier after being hit above the grill of his helmet. Unable to be given stitches, he came out to resume his innings with his right eye almost completely obscured, and was unsurprisingly soon dispatched. Hampshire only managed to muster 131, which they will do very well to defend with their captain unable to take the field as yet.

Before the match, however, the world’s greatest leg spinner was bedecked in gown and cap to receive an honorary doctorate from Southampton Solent University for his services to cricket. Whilst Dr. Warne looked amused, he seemed to receive the accolade quite happily from the same institution to hand Master of Arts degrees to Robin Smith and David Gower.

No wonder they love him at the Rose Bowl

County cricketers have seen all sorts of players come and go, not least with overseas players coming and going. Shane Warne’s stints at Hampshire have been something else. He is not just a ‘gun for hire’ for Hampshire, he’s totally committed to their cause.

That’s why he’s not too happy at being called back to Australia for a three day training camp.

And rightfully so. With the new rules about what you can and can’t do on an airplane these days,  Warne faces two full days of flying, a three day training camp, and a bad dose of jet-lag, right in the middle of his constant battle to get Hampshire to the county Championship.

Other overseas professionals might be indifferent, but to Warne, this is a deeply irritating thing, and Hampshire know that. It’s part of why he’s so popular down there.

Vaughan’s not batting

That didn’t last long.

Vaughan is batting

As speculated, he’s returned for Yorkshire’s Championship match against Hampshire. See scorecard here.

Bahhhhhhhhh bleat bahhhh

Oh the Sky Sports chaps are loving this, absolutely loving it. Hampshire have just beaten Ireland, and they can’t stop inferring that they’re all going to get pissed on Guinness. I don’t doubt they will, but SHUT UP about it.

After [whoever] got the Man-of-the-Match award, they said “Ooh, err, I don’t think there will be many clear heads tomorrow morning; Champagne and Guinness. Not the best mixture.” Well fuck me dead. Aren’t you insightful. No, it’s not a good mixture, and nor is the current crop of Sky Sports presenters.

I have no problem with any of them as people. They’re all thoroughly decent and were/are fine cricketers. I just wish they wouldn’t state the bleeding obvious – something I felt Channel 4 got spot on. They had a duty to provide a balance between teaching the game to newcomers (roadshows) and not patronising the longterm fans (us). Sky are all about glitz, glamour and shoving the blatant down our throats. It’s especially hard so early in the season, because it makes me want to eat my feet and stick a pen up my nose, ala Blackadder on the right.

Channel 4 got it so right. It’s now all so wrong, not to mention a total injustice that a large slice of the population will simply not see any cricket on TV for the next few years.

Eoin Morgan

To be sure
Regular readers, all seven of you, will know how highly I rate Ed Joyce, the Irish and Middlesex batsman. Many think Eoin Morgan, another Oirishman, is as good…if not better. And he’s in action now against Hampshire in the first round of C&G trophy matches.

No sooner had I finished writing that last sentence than Morgan flicked a leg-side delivery straight down fine-leg’s throat. You dickhead, Will. Blogger’s curse.

Oh well, not much more to be said. Other than you pronounce his first name “Owen”, not “Ee-ohh-in” like I did.

Oh Boy, I am Excited!!!!

In the UK, the County Championship started last night. Lancs are giving Hampshire a hard time and Gloucestershire are doing well against Somerset. Yay for County Cricket.

All joking aside, it would seem to me that the reform of county cricket into a two-division system seems to have had a positive effect in producing tougher cricketers for England.