After Somerset’s defeat to Surrey in the Clydesdale Bank 40 final their captain, Marcus Trescothick, apologised to his supporters for “putting you through all this again”. He should not have bothered; his team, however exasperating, had given themselves and their fans a chance of glory.
They had toiled long and hard to get to two finals and for that they earnt the gratitude of their followers even if they eventually drove them crazy as well. But there can be no ecstasy without the possibility of agony. So there was bloody agony.
Agony is part of the equation and it was not the exclusive preserve of Somerset folk in the 2011 season. Warwickshire must have thought they were going to be champions when they reached the mid-point of the last round of matches. They played an almost flawless game, but the Rose Bowl pitch was too benign, the opposition batsmen were too dedicated to the cause and Hampshire, already relegated, had no need to chase a win.
At Headingley, which is still a fecund nursery of cricketers like Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Adam Lyth and Ajmal Shahzad, they were still shaking their heads. They were fancied as Championship contenders at the start of the season but the second division awaits them next year. Northamptonshire, who led the way in that division for much of the season, will still be there next summer thanks to Surrey’s late surge. The agony is worse when expectations are high.
So maybe there was not so much despondency in Cardiff, Chelmsford or Canterbury even though all those venues belong to counties, who, not so long ago, were dominant in the English game. Meanwhile there was joy unconfined at Lancashire, Surrey and Leicestershire.
The point is that all these outcomes have mattered to a surprisingly large number of people, the players obviously but also to an awful lot of punters. There is often some tosh talked about county cricket: that its prime purpose is to be a breeding ground for international cricketers.
That is not the right emphasis. The prime purpose of county cricket is to provide competition of the highest possible quality and intensity. Winning and losing must matter more than anything. If that is achieved, then we automatically have the breeding ground our national selectors and coaches crave.
Some of the above explains why I often found the domestic cricket in 2011 more compelling than the international fare. The Glen Chapple story was rather more uplifting than that of Sachin Tendulkar; and somehow the travails of Paul Nixon were more engrossing than those of Kumar Sangakkara (though the Sri Lankan captain, who gave a wonderful Spirit of Cricket lecture at Lord’s, speaks a little more decorously).
We never knew what was going to happen next on the county circuit. But we had a better idea on the international scene: England would probably win.
This is not meant to diminish England’s achievements. Far quicker than anyone thought possible they are now at the top of the ICC’s Test table. Moreover it does not feel like a statistical quirk, though the South Africans may feel that they are being all too easily forgotten.
Every international side must be envious of England’s depth of bowling. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Chris Tremlett and Steve Finn would get into any other Test side. But they can’t all play for England at the same time. Monty Panesar would probably find a game in most Test teams. England’s batsmen may not all be beautiful to watch but they know how to score runs.
The one-day team cannot yet match the excellence of the Test side but it is improving with fresh names making an impact. Best of all is the impression that England sides, so shrewdly managed, currently have two vital attributes: they make the most of their potential and they know how to win.
My lack of jubilation may stem from the ease with which England carried off the trophies – and I’m no fan of floodlit cricket in this country in September or at any other time of the year. England’s triumphs were almost too easy and too devoid of tension. And I may have become a bit curmudgeonly after another Somerset defeat at the tail-end of the summer.
But, blow me, as I bang out this last paragraph, Somerset, with jetlag and a depleted side, have just beaten the Auckland Aces in a Champions League qualifier in Hyderabad. Off the last ball. Forget Stuart Broad or Alastair Cook. Hail Steve Snell. All smiles again.