Sleepless in Chester-le-Street

I write from the far north, windswept but spellbound by a game of cricket watched by a few hardy souls, who are willing the autumn to stay away.

The winds are so strong that there may be trawlermen in the crowd since their boats cannot possibly take to sea. There are also diehard supporters who have travelled over three hundred miles to be buffeted by the winds and the odd squally shower.

I am in Chester-le-Street for the last match of the season. And, of course, I have an interest. My old club, Somerset, have a chance to win their first ever County Championship and I want to be there if they do it (fortunately my employers are happy for me to be here as well).

It can be agonising; it can be compelling; it is not relaxing. Ask any of the Somerset supporters what the score is at Old Trafford or Headingley, where fellow challengers Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire have been playing, and they can tell you to the last run and wicket.

Each game is being monitored minutely – often on this site – and moods fluctuate accordingly. Why? Are we all mad? My suspicions are that the answer has to be “No” for there will be countless users of TME who are going through the same sort of torment. We can’t all be mad.

But why is it like this? Well, it all seems to matter so much. Among Somerset folk you often hear the plaintive request “I just hope they do it in my lifetime” [As you almost certainly know, Somerset have never won the Championship].

At Nottingham they fret about being runners-up so often in recent years. And they wear the frown of leaders, whose advantage has been steadily eroded. In Yorkshire they fret, well, because they are Yorkshiremen but also because they have an innocent home-grown team who have performed beyond expectation and who demand admiration.

It matters because of the longevity of the Championship. WG played in this competition; so did Hobbs and Compton and Dexter.

I’m sure there remains a groundswell of interest out there, despite the reduced coverage in our national papers and despite the glitter of the IPL or the more restrained appeal of our own more genteel Twenty20 tournament.

It is odd that the newspapers, the old fashioned media favoured by the traditionalists, have relegated the importance of covering the Championship in depth, while the new media [to me at least], the websites with their cricket blogs, appear to be taking up the cudgel for the oldest form of the game so enthusiastically.

Fortunately it all matters to the players as well and the ECB has played its part here by increasing the prize money substantially for winning the Championship. There is £550,000 for the winners this season.

This is where the domestic game scores over some of our international cricket. I was one of the unfortunate few at Cardiff for the second Twenty20 match against Pakistan. It was a poor game, of course, but the worst part was that no one greatly cared who won. Chester-le-Street has been a far better option.

However, we have heard some encouraging noises from the ICC this week, albeit only in proposal form. They are trying to ensure that international cricket matters more. The idea of a Test Championship is worth pursuing. So too is the notion that the World Cup in 2015 should be contested by just ten teams (four years too late).

These are moves in the right direction but I can’t dwell on them just now. I’ve got to go and have another sleepless night. Far more important questions are buzzing around my head.

Will the rain stay away at Chester-le-Street? Will the Somerset slip cordon hold their catches? Can Kent keep the Tykes at bay at Headingley? Have Nottinghamshire recovered their composure? Can they eke out another declaration from Lancashire?

And will somebody tell me right now whether it’s raining in Manchester? No, no, I’m not going mad.

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