County cricket is back! I say this with my annual resolution that I will follow the season and remain enthusiastic right through to the end. In reality, I know that I only pay attention after the event if there has been anything dramatic, and then make sure I know who is in the running in the last few weeks.
Contributing factors to this neglect are, in no particular order: living in a ‘minor’ county; having a full time job; being bamboozled by the format of scores as given in news reports (with both innings for each side appearing consecutively, leaving it to me to work out the narrative for myself); not actually reading newspapers anyway.
I have to confess I was sort of half looking forward to The Hundred just for making the narrative part easy for me. So once more unto the breach, I am going to give it another go this year, hoping the one-time only format will make this easier for me.
For a start, I like that all teams will have the chance to win two ‘tournaments’ in one: the County Championship essentially going to the top team in the league overall, and the Bob Willis Trophy going to the winner of a first-vs-second place final showpiece.
For the County Championship, the 18 counties are split into three seeded groups of 6. Call me crazy, but might this not be a better way to manage the whole system, rather than the two divisions thing? With all the talk of booting out Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and abandoning them to sweet little Suffolk’s fate? After their first 10 matches, the three groups will be reformed into Divisions One to Three, with the top two of each group entering Division One and so forth. Again, I quite like this – it’s a bit Champions League-y. And it’s a good thing that the groups are seeded rather than geographically grouped, as in the T20 Blast. The groups also allow for significant local derbies, in a clever bit of planning to appease the London/Northern/South-Western types. Fair play, in my humble opinion.
The Royal London 40 –over competition is pleasingly squished in, from 22 July to 19 August. As a convert-in-waiting, the idea of a shorter tournament is more appealing to keep up with. Just have to hope the weather is consistently good enough. The winners of the two (randomly drawn) groups this time will proceed to the semi-finals, where they will meet one of the second-vs-third place winners following their quarter-final. Again, not overly-complex. Remember the beauty of the Champions Trophy vs the World Cup.
It would be so nice to think that spectators will be able to attend these matches. As so many people pointed out last year in the first stage of lockdowns, there are few sports with more cubic space per spectator than country cricket. As someone with heftily priced tickets for England at Lord’s vs India in August I know I speak for many of us who just want to get back into the grounds again. Fingers crossed we make it.