Championship fixture a beacon amid 'works cricket'

I don’t know if anyone else feels the same but I’m really looking forward to watching a ‘proper’ game of cricket next week when we resume the County Championship at Worcester.

Not that Twenty20 is over, far from it, as my club Leicestershire – for example – have only played six of their sixteen games, nine by the time we assemble in Worcester.

The ‘respite’ is only for four days, however, and then the team moves the next day to Chesterfield to resume the Twenty20 campaign which then runs for a further two weeks.

I don’t think my jaded feelings towards Twenty20 are the result of our disappointing performances in the Friends Provident t20 so far; I felt the same after watching just a few games of IPL on the television back in March.

‘Works cricket’ is how the former England captain, MJK Smith, described it to me last week, reference to the days when, for a bit of fun, companies would organise cricket evenings at the height of summer with teams made up of a few serious club cricketers and those who had never held a bat.

“A bowler’s nightmare” is how Nick Cook, the former Leicestershire and England spinner put it to me slightly more colourfully after umpiring our game against Yorkshire on Sunday. “‘One night a bowler can go for 20 in four overs, and then bowl no differently and go for 40 the next”, he said.

What lies behind my feelings? I think it’s probably the ‘professionalisation’ of Twenty20, which I guess was inevitable.

A heavy bat, a good eye, clear the left hip and whack across the line can be a match-winning tactic worthy of any ‘works’ team but its been adopted by many professionals as a preferred modus operandi, which in any other form of the game would fail.

Wickets and boundary sizes are being manipulated to suit the perceived strengths of each team. Durham produced a very good pitch in our game last Monday and shortened the boundaries to suit their big gun batsmen, particularly Ross Taylor, one of a growing number of specialist Twenty20 cricketers.

Elsewhere, including Grace Road, worn wickets and long boundaries are the order of the day to counter the advantage of the batsmen, and this Twenty20 season has seen some very low scores in comparison to previous years and not always to the benefit of the home team.

Manipulating the condition of the wicket to home advantage has been a feature of the game since WG’s time but it’s now an integral part of Twenty20.

What’s my problem? Real cricket is a skilful game, which requires years of coaching and application for even the best to master. The best matches are when there is an even contest between bat and ball. Twenty20 is an affront to both.

We need revenue-generating cricket at domestic level and Twenty20 meets that need. How much of it and when it should be played will be the subject of much debate. For me? Roll on Worcester next week.

*This article has also appeared in the Leicester Mercury newspaper

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