Spare a thought for the red-ball specialists
It is not simple (sadly for us number’s people) to measure the ratio of ‘love for Jos Buttler’ to ‘love for Dom Sibley’. But anecdotal evidence would suggest it may well be off the charts. By comparison, the ratio of Buttler’s Test career batting average (34.10 at the time of typing) to Sibley’s (30.39) is measurable and at 1.12 it is comfortably on the charts. Perhaps the ratio between these ratios helps explain the attention given to the lack of red-ball preparedness for Buttler and Jonny Bairstow going into the 1st Test against India compared to the rest of England’s top eight (counting Curran as he is the all-rounder and therefore expected to score runs).
Buttler had not faced a competitive red-ball since 8 February, Bairstow 6 March and Curran 24 January. Their lack of match preparedness is obvious. But what about the other five? None of them have played much recently either. Here are the first-class innings they played in the 51 days between the end of the 2nd Test against New Zealand and yesterday: Burns 4, Sibley 3, Crawley 1 (out 6th ball for 0), Root 0, Lawrence 0. None of them have batted at all in first-class cricket in the last 20 days, along with the entire rest of the cricketing world apart from the 22 who played in the First-class Counties v Indians match. From many years of personal experience, I can confirm that lack of exercise tends to increase muscle flabbiness. How do you maintain red-ball muscle memory if you don’t use it? Obviously, it is worse if you haven’t used it for six months, but please spare a thought too for the lesser-loved red-ball specialists who have barely used it for two months. Dan Lawrence scored 81* in the first innings of the 2nd Test against New Zealand. I suggest that you disregard any commentator referencing that innings and blah-blah-ing about him being ‘in-form’ based on something he did on 10/11 June.
It is hard to argue with the need to feed the voracious euphoria-appetite of our marketing overlords by cramming the schedule with white-ball stuff as that is apparently what fills the proverbial coffers. But I have two ‘buts’. First ‘but’: While it is true that red-ball specialists are diminishing stake-holders in our great game, they are still stake-holders. And, given cricket’s very belated but welcome conversion to ‘inclusiveness’ we should be inclusively considering the requirements of all stake-holders (however diminishing some may be). For the second ‘but’ consider this: The English cricket season lasts six months – April to September. The weather precludes cricket outside of that window, until there are enough stadiums with roofs. The best three of those months (loosely termed ‘summer’) are June, July and August. Apologies, I couldn’t resist the predictable jokes about English weather. As we know, the vast majority of the County Championship is allocated to the other three months (i.e. not summer, loosely or otherwise). Across the three County competitions and The Hundred the maximum total number of overs scheduled for the current season is 62 921.2. The ‘.2’ is because I have recalculated The Hundred’s 5-ball overs (whatever they are called) into 6-ball overs to simplify things. I know the 96 overs a day is a de jure minimum, but it is a de facto maximum, so that is what is used for Championship days. Of the 62 921.2 overs in the fixture list this season only 25 361.2 are scheduled in the three months with the best weather while 37 560 are in the not-summer months. By any standards, allocating only 40% of a weather-dependent product to the 50% of the time with the best weather is a particularly poor use of resources, i.e. why do we play less cricket when the weather is best suited to cricket? It is time for the Operations Department to be heard too. Better scheduling that considers all stake-holders should be possible.
There is not much sport played during normal working hours, so cricket owns the Office Hour Sports market. A market which, by the way, is only likely to expand in the post-covid WFH era. The T20 Blast clearly works best on Friday nights. The County Championship works well (especially these days with live-streaming) during week-days. It doesn’t make much sense to have so much Monday to Wednesday downtime in prime summer as is currently the case. I know all good T20 leagues love a window, but The Hundred has usurped that from the Blast, so why not spread the Blast across the whole wall. #MetaphorMania. What about a normative county week of Sunday to Wednesday Championship and Friday night Blast. That doesn’t, of course, mean all 26 weeks are like that. Even Friday nights aren’t that much fun in weather-poor April, so you could slice out bits of the season that are Championship only or T20 only or One-day only, while maintaining the normative week throughout most of the season. That way you could create an environment where red-ball play can always be within the muscle memory time frame for Test match players. I am sure that scheduling most of the cricket in the summer this way would benefit the full range of stake-holders all the way from Jos to Dom.
And now for a look at what the Cricket Fact Randomizer has gurgled out today:
John Hampshire played Test cricket for England and umpired Test cricket for ICC. He played most of his first-class cricket for Yorkshire and some first-class cricket for Derbyshire. Along with the other three Hampshires to play first-class cricket, he never played for Hampshire. Nick Derbyshire played a few times for Essex and Lancashire between 1994 and 1996. None of the Kents, Somersets or Durhams who played first-class cricket did so for the county of their surname. All of which makes Oswald Lancashire special. He played 97 first-class matches for Lancashire between 1878 and 1888.
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