County Championship shames its detractors

It was a wonderful day yesterday for county cricket, and the County Championship, and perhaps that was the most pleasing thing about the whole drama of the day, which ended with Nottinghamshire pipping Somerset for the title at the death and Worcestershire storming through to beat Glamorgan for the second promotion place in Division Two.

County cricket, and specifically the County Championship, is the backbone of the game. In my opinion, too, it is stronger at the moment than it has been for a very long time.

It may have its detractors, but It is there to produce England cricketers – and people capable of winning games for England – and that is precisely what it is doing.

Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Eoin Morgan, Steven Finn… they’ve all been produced by county cricket and, in terms of that list, by the supposedly more unfashionable counties too.

The entire Championship is very competitive – in both divisions – although the first division is particularly strong and I am delighted that we now have a premier domestic competition that is producing good strong cricket and a stream of good players for England. It is doing what it sets out to do.

Personally, of course, I know what it is like to win the County Championship as a player. Middlesex won the title six times during my time with the club, and on a seventh occasion we shared the title.

In fact, in that year, I remember us being bowled out for 149 by Lancashire at Blackpool when, in those days, the first batting bonus point was available at 150. That cost us that Championship outright – so we really should have won it seven times!

So, I suppose, I can also sympathise with Somerset in this year’s competition. How much they would have liked an extra point!

But I cannot agree with Murali Kartik, who I bumped into earlier this morning at Lord’s where Somerset are now preparing for the Clydesdale Bank 40 final against Warwickshire, which represents a last chance for them to emerge from a season of such near-misses – in the Twenty20 as well as the Championship – with some silverware to show for all their efforts.

Kartik told me that the title should have been shared, because they and Notts had won the same number of points. He said it didn’t matter that Notts had won one more game than Somerset, which qualified them to be champions.

I disagree. I think it is absolutely right that Notts are rewarded for winning more games. It was also interesting to hear Kartik saying that Notts lost more games than Somerset did, as if that was also another reason why the title should have been shared.

But, to me, it just shows that Notts were prepared to play positive cricket throughout the season, and often risking defeat to win more games. Perhaps Somerset should have done the same? To me, Notts are worthy champions.

We should not forget, however, that Yorkshire were actually the team with the best chance of winning the title on that magnificent final day.

Their early second innings collapse against Kent, who then just managed to score the 90 runs they needed to win, put Yorkshire out of the picture early on. After that, we were all concentrating on Somerset up at Durham and Notts’s progress towards the 400 total they needed at Old Trafford against Lancashire.

But, if Yorkshire had got any sort of defendable lead against Kent, they would have had a great chance of bowling them out – especially as Kent themselves had to keep going for victory in the hope that it might have got them out of relegation.

In the end, though, James Tredwell’s 7 for 22 did for Yorkshire, and Kent got home with six wickets down. In that result, though, we can also see the inherent strength of the Championship.

Any team can knock over any other on a given day, and to win the title itself you have to play better cricket than everyone else over a long period of time.

That’s why I treasure my own Championship winners’ medals more than any other. Over a long season, you have to wear down opponents. You have to defend, as well as attack. You have to build match-winning partnerships and you have to seize your chances with the ball as well as with the bat when you get them.

As I said earlier, too, Championship cricket is all about producing match-winning cricketers: those who can perform with either bat or ball when their side really needs that performance. Cricketers, indeed, like Andrew Flintoff.

It was very sad to hear, on such a dramatic last day of the 2010 Championship, that Flintoff had decided to retire from the game due to his chronic injury condition. He is a huge loss to England and English cricket at an age when he should still be out there performing and winning games.

But perhaps his very commitment to the game – his desire to give everything all the time and especially when he bowled and put such stress on his huge frame – contributed in the end to his early retirement.

Better that, however, than the attitude of too many cricketers who are always looking for excuses not to go out and play. To win things, and to be successful, you need to want to get out there and play – in all conditions and in all circumstances.

That was Flintoff, and he was a top-quality cricketer who finished at the top.

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