The 2011 English season began, like the previous summer, with a match involving the MCC and the Champion County as Nottinghamshire met the MCC at Abu Dhabi in a four-day match which started on March 27. A hundred years ago, the domestic season also started with a first-class contest between the MCC and Nottinghamshire, although this game was staged at Lord’s in the leafy green suburbs of north London, rather than in the desert heat of the United Arab Emirates.
Besides a strikingly different location, another major difference was that the contest between the MCC and Nottinghamshire in 1911 took place on May 3, thirty-six days later than the game between the two sides in 2011. Indeed, during the course of the last hundred years, the starting date for the English season has steadily been getting earlier. In 1921 the first-class season began on April 30 with Leicestershire meeting the touring Australians at the Aylestone Road ground in Leicester, while in 1931 the opening batch of matches began on May 2 with four County Championship matches, plus a match at Lord’s between the MCC and Yorkshire.
The MCC-Yorkshire fixture also kicked off the 1951 season as on April 28 that year the two sides met at Lord’s while, in The Parks, Oxford University entertained Lancashire. By 1961 the first-class season was starting on April 26 with Nottinghamshire meeting Derbyshire at Trent Bridge, while in 1971 the first game got underway on April 21 with Warwickshire travelling to Oxford to play the students in The Parks.
Ten years later, it was the Light Blues who hosted the opening game of the 1981 season, as at Fenner’s on April 22 Cambridge University met Essex, while in 1991 the two University grounds jointly shared the honour of hosting the first batch of games on April 13, with Lancashire travelling to Fenner’s and Hampshire to The Parks.
April 16 was the starting date of the 2001 season with games taking place at Cambridge, Durham and Oxford between the counties and the respective University Cricketing Centres of Excellence. By 2004 the start of the first-class season had moved even earlier with the season commencing on April 9 with the MCC meeting Sussex and the following year it nudged a day earlier as on April 8, 2005, the domestic campaign began with Warwickshire playing the MCC at Lord’s.
In 2010, the starting date moved into the first week of April with first-class contests at Cambridge, Derby, Durham and Oxford all starting on April 3, while on March 29 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi the MCC met Durham. There are some who question whether these matches in the United Arab Emirates are really part of the English season, but there is no doubt that the start to the 2011 first-class season is the earliest-ever on home soil with a series of matches starting on April 2 involving Durham, Essex, Lancashire, Northamptonshire and the four MCC University sides with first-class status.