Not The ’Nineteen World Cup

Sick already of the 2019 Cricket World Cup? Less than ecstatic about the five-Test Ashes series to follow? No need to worry. In 2017, I provided a list for Cricinfo of seven games to savour, mostly featuring the England men’s team. By contrast, here’s a selection of seven fixtures that have nothing to do with those behemoth competitions. Indeed, upon careful inspection of the fixture list, one can assemble a compelling and varied personal trip around the country.

28th April: Worcestershire vs Warwickshire (Worcester)
Playing 50-over cricket in April is probably not everybody’s cup of tea, especially the spectators’; nevertheless, options are limited from mid-April to mid-May. This at least ticks the boxes of a) derby game; b) cosy ground; c) close enough to town to hole up in a café (or pub) during the inevitable April-shower delays.

20th-23rd May: Kent vs Surrey (Beckenham)
All eyes will be on the newly promoted Kent to see how the swashbucklers fare against the reigning champions. With the game taking place almost in Surrey’s back yard, local support should be strong for both teams – and the game might just yield an early indication of whether Kent may be able to maintain the recent London monopoly on the Championship.

17th-20th June: Yorkshire vs Warwickshire (York)
It’s pleasing to see another outground come on-line, and York’s Clifton Park will see its redevelopment rewarded with its first first-class game. Those who treasure their trips to Scarborough have no reason to fear, as two games at North Marine Road are also scheduled (starting on 30th June and 18th August respectively). Alternatively, for those of a Red Rose persuasion, Sedbergh School in Cumbria will be hosting its first Lancashire first-class game from 30th July-3rd July.

18th-21st July: England vs Australia (Taunton)
Women’s Test cricket comes around so rarely that any appearance is welcome. It’s a shame that the last two instances were on dull pitches that did little to showcase the range of the players’ skills: it has to be hoped that Taunton will offer up a sporting pitch for the occasion.

21st-24th July: Gloucestershire vs Worcestershire (Cheltenham)
There is something of a lack of derby games in the County Championship this year, with Yorkshire, Surrey, and Warwickshire all in Division One, and Lancashire, Middlesex, and Worcestershire stuck in Division Two. That leaves neighbouring Gloucestershire and Worcestershire to provide something vaguely approximating a grudge match – and happily it’s in the delightful surroundings of Cheltenham College, which claims what must be one of the finest square-leg backdrops in English first-class cricket.

Gloucestershire vs Sussex, Cheltenham College, 2018

8th August: Middlesex vs Surrey (Lord’s)
Of course, there’s no lack of derby games in the T20 Blast. The Oval does T20 rather better than Lord’s, if truth be told, but getting to that fixture on the 23rd would mean missing play on Day 3 of the above Cheltenham game. This will be the seventh and final game that AB de Villiers will be playing for Middlesex (assuming they stay true to form and avoid the knockout stages, he laughs bitterly).

1st September: Kia Super League Finals Day (Hove)
One indisuptable success story for the ECB has been the launch and development of its women’s T20 league. So much of a success has it been, in fact, that from 2020, it will, er, be abruptly discarded. Whatever the merits of that decision, it means that 2019 will see the Final Finals Day for the KSL. One last seaside jaunt, then, to savour the memories, before the Hundred rolls in on the tide.

Needless to say, admission for all seven games would likely cost you in total about the same as an Edrich Stand Ashes ticket. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.


Report: Sam Curran holds Middlesex to draw

Fifties from Sam Curran and Ben Foakes held off Middlesex on the final day of their County Championship meeting at Lord’s.

Many are the batsmen that have failed to add significantly to an overnight score; rather fewer are those that have failed to add significantly to overnight centuries; even fewer are those that have not done so twice in a match. On Saturday, Kumar Sangakkara added a mere single before edging Franklin to Rayner for 114; on Monday he added all of four runs before edging the same bowler to Simpson.

It nevertheless meant that Sangakkara had scored runs on each of the four days in the match, on what could yet be his final appearance at Lord’s. If it proves to be so, what better way to sign off?

Almost as if sensing the opening that his departure offered Middlesex in the game, even the angle-grinders in the Warner Stand ceased their ear-assaulting screeching. The Surrey lead stood at a mere 112, with the first non-specialist batsman at the crease.

Any Middlesex hopes that this would open the game up were quelled by Sam Curran and Ben Foakes’ partnership of 83 for the sixth wicket, only ended on the stroke of lunch when Curran nicked Rayner behind for his first scalp of the match. They were aided by the curious decision of Franklin to postpone taking of the new ball until the 95th over. With the old ball offering no appreciable movement, and Middlesex well up with the over rate, there seemed little obvious reason to persist with Rayner, who till that point had found little turn from the pitch. Sam Curran found Rayner to his liking, driving the off-spinner over long-off into the Pavilion for six.

That being said, the new ball also offered little to the bowlers. While Curran was the beneficiary of the decision to not include a third slip – Finn being the unfortunate bowler on two occasions – by and large there was limited movement either off the pitch or in the air, and consequently few alarms. Rayner briefly livened up proceedings by bowling Tom Curran through the gate for a spirited 22 – Curran being caught out by one that did, for once, turn, but the Surrey tail resisted in a way they had not done in the first innings, ensuring that within an hour or so after lunch the game was already heading towards handshakes.

Much of this was down to the resistance of Foakes, who was content to quietly survive. In the first forty-five minutes after lunch, he scored all of five runs, building pressure through time-consumption while his colleagues built it through run-contribution. He was left unbeaten on 67 after Malan’s part-time leg-spin cleaned up Meaker, whose off-stump was pegged back by a traditional leg-break, and Footitt, who chipped his second ball to cover.

Middlesex’s intentions as regards pursuing their target of 242 in 39 overs were called into question by the retention of Compton in his opening position. After Gubbins fell early, caught behind off Sam Curran – a decision he did not look entirely happy with – Middlesex were content to trundle along to 13-1 at tea, with 33 overs remaining. A trickle of runs followed after the interval, and although there was late excitement when Compton swiped Footitt to deep square-leg, both teams agreed to take the points for the draw soon after 5pm.

Hands tied: why governing bodies must not change match results

With the ECB currently unable, it appears, to make any move without being slammed from one quarter or another, it is pleasing to see one recent decision of theirs that can be applauded. The unnecessarily controversial end to the Kent vs. Sussex match in the Women’s One-Day Championship led to Kent appealing the tied result, on the basis that the ball was dead once the keeper had taken it, thus precluding any further running.

As those who knew the Laws were well aware, Kent were on a hiding to nothing, assuming that the Laws were consistently applied. Law 21.10 (Result not to be changed) is quite clear:

Once the umpires have agreed with the scorers the correctness of the scores at the conclusion of the match – see Laws 3.15 (Correctness of scores) and 4.2 (Correctness of scores) – the result cannot thereafter be changed.

Case closed. Yet even if the result could, hypothetically, have been changed, the Dead ball Laws also offered little support to Kent’s complaint.

Kent, it seems, felt the Sussex players were somehow underhanded in running whilst Kent imagined the ball was dead. As Laws 16.2 (Call of Time)23.1 (Ball is dead) and 23.2 (Ball finally settled) state, however:

The bowler’s end umpire shall call Time when the ball is dead on the cessation of play before any interval or interruption and at the conclusion of the match.

The ball becomes dead when […] it is finally settled in the hands of the wicket-keeper or of the bowler. […] The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play. […] Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide.

Had the umpires called “time”? If not, the ball was potentially still in play. Was it finally settled? Not if the umpires had reason to suppose that either the batters or the fielders still viewed it as in play. Sussex clearly viewed it as in play, so the umpires rightly ruled it as not being dead.

It’s disappointing to see the Kent coach take to Twitter, claiming that the “Spirit of Cricket has taken a big U-Turn this weekend.” As I have written elsewhere, such inappropriate invocations of the Spirit of Cricket only serve to confuse the matter. Why should the Spirit of Cricket be thought to have anything to do with attempting a fair run?

Since the Laws are so clear, it cannot have been very difficult, for the ECB to come to their stated conclusion as reported by CRICKETHer:

It has been decided that there is no reason to overturn any decision made by the umpires on the day, nor the outcome of the game as had been determined on the day.  The match is therefore a tie.

One cannot help but feel, though, that the ECB nonetheless could, and ideally should, have gone further in their statement. As it stands, the statement leaves open the possibility that they could have changed the result, had there been sufficient reasons to do so. This should not be possible. In the case of a result which they did consider to be in error, governing bodies should never overturn the result itself. That is a breach of the authority of the umpires, who have the sole responsibility for determining the result of the game. The ICC famously did so in the Oval Test of 2006, only to reverse their reversal following condemnation by MCC.

The most that a governing body should be able to do is to apply some competition penalty to nullify the result, rather than alter it. This could be done, for instance, by deducting points, or by disqualifying the team. Indeed, this happened in the infamous Worcestershire vs Somerset match when Somerset declared after one over. Somerset would have proceeded to the knockout stages, had the TCCB not voted, somewhat controversially in itself, to disqualify them.

Returning to the present day, it would have been preferable for the ECB to emphasise three points:

  1. that the ECB in principle has no right to alter the result determined by the umpires;
  2. that the ECB, incidentally, saw no error in the umpires’ judgement on this occasion;
  3. that the ECB therefore saw no reason to add or deduct points from any team, or take any further action.

Asking a governing body to recognise, highlight and advertise the limits of its own authority may, however, be expecting a little too much.