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.


Holder’s ban just, but only just

It is possible to be delighted in Jason Holder’s success with bat, ball, and captaincy, and to maintain that his suspension for the third and final Test at St. Lucia was correct.

As has been observed elsewhere, slowing the game down yields a tactical advantage: the less a bowler has to bowl each day, the more energy he conserves. West Indies thus gained a small but not entirely inconsequential unfair advantage in bowling at a slow rate.

This is not, of course, to claim that England’s loss was due to the the slow over rate; they were simply thoroughly outplayed by a superior West Indies team. Furthermore, should any English supporters be about to climb on to the moral high ground, it should also be noted in passing that Len Hutton cottoned on to the potential of the tactic for the 1954-1955 Ashes.

Nevertheless, the idea that England’s batsmen were equally culpable for the early finish misses the point. The shortchanging of spectators from slow over rates is not caused by an early conclusion to the match, but by providing less play for your pound/dollar/rupee. Spectators are not financially robbed by games that finish early: refunds are typically issued for missing days of play.

One wonders if the outcry would have been so vocal if the offender was not so eminently likeable a character. Had David Warner been in charge and suspended for such an offence, it seems unlikely that he would have garnered as much sympathy as Holder did.

What certainly is unsatisfactory, however, is the current system of post-game penalties. Several years ago on ESPNcricinfo I called for fielders to be suspended during games. Russell Degnan’s analysis of the problem merits careful reading; he calls for a delivery clock, similar to that used in tennis. Either way, to justly redress the in-game advantage unfairly gained, an in-game penalty is required, whether that be penalty runs, fielder suspension, or some other means.

Post-game fines and suspensions do not remediate, they punish; for the sake of spectators and the game itself, in-game penalties should be used wherever possible. The redrafted Law 42, indeed, gives umpires more leeway in this regard. Had such an in-game penalty been applied in this instance, the Second Test would have been marginally more balanced, spectators could have witnessed Holder in action in the Third Test, and less time would have been wasted both on the field and in writing about the disappointing outcome.

Batting order by numbers

England haven’t been averse to shifting around their lower order of late, with spectacular success at Lord’s, as Stokes embraced the No. 6 position with gusto.

Why not be bolder? Here is my proposal: institute a perma-flexi batting order based on current career runs. After all, players with most career wickets tend to bowl earlier in the innings than those with a mere handful, so why should different rules apply to batsmen? If players aspire to being openers, they’ll have to earn it.

As of 3rd June 2015, this is how England’s line-up would look. Cook is the only player to retain the position he played in during the last Test:

  1. Cook (9000)
  2. Bell (7354)
  3. Broad (2285)
  4. Root (2273)
  5. Ballance (1096)
  6. Anderson (1002)
  7. Stokes (683)
  8. Buttler (474)
  9. Ali (456)
  10. Lyth (150)
  11. Wood (48)

If Plunkett (238) returns to replace Wood, he’ll slot in at 10, thus pushing Lyth down to 11.

I can’t see any problems with this strategy and am frankly amazed the selectors haven’t already implemented it. Does anyone have an email address for Trevor Bayliss?