Tuesday (24th September) saw the start of the last cricket at The Ageas Bowl this year – it seems to have gone quickly – and that probably means the end of summer and cooler weather! But, at least we had a good summer when it eventually arrived (despite the snow at some early matches in April) and the t20 was a resounding success in the summer sun. I haven’t really written much about the cricket this season (a few groans about why the County Championship points system tends to encourage too many draws), so maybe now is a good time to summarise what I have enjoyed about this year’s cricket.
Of course, the most enjoyable thing this season has nothing to do with Hampshire, but connects me back to my northern ties – Durham have won the County Championship again, well done lads!
But, what of Hampshire? Well the last game was a wonderful win in only three days by an innings and 31 runs. There was little to gain other than some respect, but Essex had an outside chance of reaching second place. There performance was poor in the light of that factor and I would have batted first if I won the toss, but they chose to field and Hants managed to reach maximum batting points. In reply Essex collapsed twice and only Napier showed any real grit. So, Hants boosted themselves to fourth place in the table with this win. However, nine draws out of 16 games played sums up the problem of County Cricket and I really think it is time for the ECB to make a re-think of the points system. A few games have involved declarations, which should have enable a positive result (and that is to be applauded even when Hants loose), but it is clear from some games that such an approach is frowned upon in certain circles and that generally there is no real encouragement (from the powers that be) to engineer results in rain affected matches. But why is this happening, why are games ending up in a draw? At the Ageas Bowl I think that the wicket, when dry, is very flat and easy to bat on (after all when any sort of spinning wicket is produced the club gets fined as we have seen in the past), but Hants also face a problem in the four day matches of not having a genuine strike bowler who can take wickets through sheer pace (the recent arrival of Matt Coles has illustrated the problem as did well at Leicestershire and in the last match at The Ageas Bowl, where he took 10 wickets in the match, but, he is not what I imagine as a strike bowler, but he is quicker than the other bowlers at Hants) and the flat wickets make this problem worse! If it is not possible to change the wickets and it is not possible to find a bowler who can take 10-12 wickets per game, then the only solution lies with more declarations and, as I have said before, this requires an incentive, probably through the points system, but also a financial incentive from promotion.
Yet, despite these problems we do very well at limited over cricket, where there is an increased need for the batsmen to take risks and play across the line – this tends to increase the success rate of swing bowlers such at Chris Wood and explains some of the success Hampshire have had. When combined with the batting capabilities of Carberry (now selected for England), Vince (who has improved dramatically this season), Dawson and Adams the team is an excellent unit for one day cricket and especially t20, but these forms of cricket tend to encourage loose shots and I have seem too many such shots during the four day matches (this was Vince’s problem in my view). We have seen some amazing cricket this summer and perhaps the most memorable moment was Carberry scoring his 100 off the last over of a t20 match, almost being run out in a match that saw over 400 runs scored in only 40 overs! There were some wonderful overs bowled by Mascarenhas, who will be sorely missed, and despite his loss of pace he remains one of the most difficult bowlers to score off in limited over cricket. Despite failure at the semi-final level in the YB40 game (to Glamorgan) and in the semi-finals of the t20, we played some wonderful limited over cricket and the batting looked deep, but occasionally likely to fail at the top. However, the question rises should we be happy with limited over success, or should there be more determination to return to the top flight County cricket? One of the topics of discussion during some of the cricket this year was the incentive for player and club to win County matches – our conclusion was that there is very little financial benefit for the club and even player transfers appear not to benefit the club financially. There is little likelihood that gates will change for County matches and the only possible change might be the demographic change in age groups that might increase the numbers of retired people who watch cricket ( not a particularly viable solution to the problem).
There are many changes planned for next year and one area of concern is that the t20 cricket will be spread out across the season. I am surprised by this, and I am not sure I totally believe that spectators wanted this, but the format will be primarily Friday nights through June, July and August (I believe), but problems attracting foreign players for such a tournament may be a problem and may lessen audience size!
The 40 over competition will be replaced by a 50 over tournament, to match international games, but I think these longer games may have a smaller audience as they take most of a day to play.
I also understand County matches may start on a Sunday, which may cause some problems with infrastructure support (public transport) if they run late!
So, I am sure there will be plenty to discuss next year and I foresee some problems attracting larger crowds to the longer tournaments, but at least we have a test match at The Ageas Bowl to look forward to (even though the ground had to be “inspected” to get this generous award, lol!