For cricket fans, April means only one thing: the return of the County Championship (CC). It is certainly not as famous, lucrative or incessantly promoted as the IPL, but it remains the cornerstone of cricket in its most traditional form. Here are 10 reasons why we should all love it…
1. Up-and-coming talents
Both Divisions are ripe with young talent, all of whom need to learn and improve in the domestic game before getting an international call-up. Sam Curran is a perfect example; many will know him for breaking into the England test side in 2018, but he had been playing and performing in the CC for Surrey since 2015. Regular county cricket during the English summer is vitally important for any young cricketer who dreams of the biggest stage.
2. A day out
Just picture it: a hot day in July, with no university or work to worry about. Play starts at 11, so you can still have a lie-in. Most grounds are fairly cheap to get into, leaving money left over for a bit of day drinking in the sun. You can wander on the outfield during the breaks, and laze about in the pavilion when you do occasionally focus on the cricket being played. And it is all finished in time for Love Island at 9pm.
3. Season-defining moments
In the CC, the battle between bat and ball is evenly poised over the course of the whole season. In early April, the conditions are ripe for swing bowlers, but by September it takes extra quality to break up consolidated batting partnerships. Consequently, special players provide special moments that define seasons – and in some cases, the title. Last year, Morne Morkel averaged an incredible 13.96 (runs per wicket), despite missing the bowler-friendly first half of the season, and fired Surrey over the line to deliver their first Championship in sixteen years.
4. The Regulars
Daily attendance figures at CC games rarely exceed a few hundred, and while there are frequent day-trippers and casual fans, there is indeed a breed who will spend the vast majority of their summer watching county cricket. The playing hours of 11am-6pm ensure that the ‘regulars’ are usually over 65, wear atrocious hats, enjoy broccoli and stilton soup during the lunch break and politely clap all boundaries and wickets. Alien to most of us, but so quintessentially English.
5. The Golden Oldies
Whilst there is plenty of young talent in the CC it’s also not unusual to have players in their very late 30s or early 40s take to the field. Just last week, 43-year-old Marcus Trescothick played for Somerset against Darren Stevens of Kent, who celebrates his own 43rd birthday in two weeks time. Stevens, incidentally, made his CC debut before Sam Curran was even born.
6. Overseas players
The international elite only tour England once every few years (at a minimum), so overseas players coming to play for our domestic counties offers a brilliant chance to see global stars in the flesh. Legends of the game have graced county cricket – Sachin Tendulkar for Yorkshire, Ricky Ponting for Surrey, Brian Lara for Warwickshire, to name just a few. This year, West Indies captain Jason Holder and Cameron Bancroft – part of the Australian ball-tampering incident – are two to watch.
7. Small grounds
Although there are nine larger cricket grounds in England and Wales which battle for the rights to host international Test matches, there are some delightful smaller ones which escape the attention of most. Think of Worcestershire’s New Road, located on the banks of the River Severn. It hosts just 4,500 spectators, but has a gorgeous backdrop, including the picturesque Worcester Cathedral. Taunton (Somerset) and Chelmsford (Essex) also come to mind.
8. Fantasy cricket
We have all heard of Fantasy Football, a game played by nearly five million worldwide. But if you are looking for something to keep you occupied for eight hours a day, for six whole months, then look no further than the Telegraph’s Fantasy Cricket. With only 30 transfers available during the course of the whole season, patience is key. It is quite simple really, 1 point per run, 25 points per wicket, so all-rounders are an invaluable asset to have in your side.
9. Varied winners
Since 2009, only one county (Yorkshire, in 2015) have retained the Division One title. The lack of a dominant county makes the game far more compelling for all involved and it is possible to go from the depths of Division Two to the heights of Division One in just a few years. In fact, only three first-class counties – Gloucester, Northamptonshire & Somerset – have never won the CC.
The jewel in the crown of county cricket. Once or twice a year, counties play a four-day game at an ‘out-ground’, located in a small town or village elsewhere in the region. These matches are played at picture-perfect locations with sell-out crowds. Short boundaries, big scores, deck chairs, trees hanging over the pitch, balls lost in nearby gardens – a visit to an out-ground is a must for any cricket fan. Two personal favourites: Scarborough and Arundel.