Sunshine start helps Championship to fight back

It seems as if the Good Lord is a bit of a fan of English domestic four-day cricket.

Despite the season starting so early there has been unbroken sunshine, a good sprinkling of spectators and some diverting cricket at every county ground I have visited so far.

It may be just coincidence. But if it rains solidly from June 2 (the start of the Twenty20 marathon) until July 18 (when the zonal matches are completed) then we can surely draw more concrete conclusions of the celestial view of the domestic cricket calendar.

My guess is that the impetus to reduce the number of County Championship games is unstoppable, though at least the ECB appears to be recognising the drawbacks of a three-group conference.

If a change is to be introduced, it behoves the ECB to make up its mind smartly. The counties have the right to know what they are playing for this season.

However, for the moment the Championship is putting up a bit of a fight. And perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves that domestic first-class cricket in England attracts far more spectators than in any other country in the world.

At Worcester and at Hove there were plenty of spare seats, of course, but there were enough people there to create an atmosphere. The cricketers were not playing in a vacuum; there was an appreciative ripple of applause for every boundary and every maiden over, which briefly drowned the mumble of early-season speculation.

“Can Worcestershire, shorn of its best players, do anything this year?” (They were good enough to trounce Middlesex at New Road).

“Can Surrey’s millions come to the rescue?” Not on the evidence of their first two games, which cheers those who hope that cricket can avoid the characteristic of professional football, in which the clubs with the most money invariably win all the trophies.

Suddenly I haven’t been so bothered whether Paul Collingwood has hit any runs for the Delhi Daredevils, or whether KP has been selected for the Bangalore Royal Challengers. It has not concerned me greatly whether the Rajasthan Royals make the semi-finals.

For the moment – in this country – the IPL has been usurped, though I enjoyed the luxury of ITV4′s coverage in the first week.

Instead I’m wondering how Matthew Hoggard is getting on at Grace Road. Pretty well, it seems judging from the scorecards that are still perused by hundreds of thousands in the morning papers.

Who is Oliver Hannon-Dalby? (He’s just taken five wickets for Yorkshire against Somerset and he’s supposed to be 6ft 7in tall). Is he one of the Halifax Hannon-Dalbys?

After two games Yorkshire top the Championship with ten home-grown players plus Jacques Rudolph. Boycott is going to be unbearable if this continues.

What of Simon Kerrigan of Lancashire, a young left-arm spinner, catapulted into the first team after Gary Keedy had broken a collar-bone, who took seven wickets in his first match in the first team?

At first hand I’ve witnessed Steven Finn, who may even dwarf Hannon-Dalby. When did someone last take nine in an innings and end up on the losing side? Richard Jones of Worcestershire looks a proper bowler. We’ll have to keep an eye on him.

Meanwhile, Monty P looks at home at Hove. A new season tosses up some new names and new conundrums. Is Tim Bresnan now an England all-rounder? Will Hamilton-Brown survive at Surrey?

There can be no smirking over the river at Lord’s either since Middlesex have had to contemplate two consecutive defeats. Metaphorically, at least, Gus Fraser must be kicking the turf.

Yes – against the odds – it’s been a vibrant start to the season. For once the outcome of the Championship could retain our interest longer than whether the national side prevails against the tourists – especially if the sun keeps shining at the right times. Better make the most of it while we can.

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