County Championship enters 126th season
LONDON: As millions prepare to tune in to the glamorous Indian Premier League (IPL), another major domestic cricket tournament will also start this weekend.
But, unlike the IPL, the only fireworks to be seen at an English ground when the venerable County Championship starts today will come if hardy fans are denied a reviving cup of tea.
Meanwhile the sight of IPL dancing cheerleaders would likely spark a medical emergency among elderly spectators were it to be repeated in the rather more prosaic surroundings of Chester-le-Street or Northampton.
For the love of cricket
The County Championship, which last year celebrated its 125th anniversary, is about as traditional as cricket gets.
Both sides still play in white, the matches are scheduled for four days and the public address announcer is far more likely to announce a change of bowling from the Pavilion End than to urge spectators to make some noise.
There are those who regard the County Championship as merely a means to prepare players for five-day international Test matches, which still draws good crowds in cricket’s birthplace if not elsewhere.
The fundamental problem for the competition, as with all domestic first-class cricket, is that much of the game takes place during the working week.
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As a result, crowds tend to be modest at best and veer towards the elderly and the retired.
Officials at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have tried to overcome that problem this season by starting most Championship matches on a Sunday in the hope of drawing a weekend crowd that could include amateur players who’ve taken part in Saturday club matches.
The fact this season’s event is sponsored by ‘Specsavers’, a high-street chain of opticians who’ve followed several insurance companies, is also indicative of the Championship’s target audience.
For all their commercial efforts and the increasing popularity of the domestic Blast T20 competition, many of England’s 18 first-class counties rely on a block grant from the ECB to stay afloat.
But woe betide you, if you tell a loyal county member that represents a ‘handout’.
As far as they are concerned, it’s their team’s dividend for contributing to the health of English cricket.