Matthew Engel’s recent article in the Guardian newspaper certainly managed to provoke plenty of conjecture and opinion. Engel’s points about the current state and the future of the game would have rung true with many but also proved little more than anathema uttered by another crusty old fuddie-duddie for others.
For those that agree with some or all of Engel’s sentiments, a pleasant alternative is readily available. (For those that don’t, there seems to always be a T20 league game being played somewhere to watch) Said alternative provides many of the facets that Engel believes is lacking in modern day cricket. The culture of the umpire’s decision being final? No problem as there are no television cameras or DRS utilised. The delicate balance between bat and ball? The first innings is restricted to 90 overs (creating a subtle balance between preserving wickets and scoring at a reasonable rate), pitches are not rolled within an inch of their life, spin bowlers are hugely valuable assets and regularly bowl the lion’s share of overs, whilst centuries are still a reasonably rare commodity and a landmark achievement. Limited overs contests are still won by teams recording middling totals between 250 and 300 rather than jet-propelled six-fests on postage stamp pitches. Regular start times? This alternative has that nailed as well; all matches start / begin on Sundays at 11 o’clock in the morning, multi day contests continuing until Tuesday with a princely 110 overs bowled each day. The season itself runs from mid April until the end of August with the multi-day competition still played during what one would consider the summer months rather than evicted to the final throes of Spring and the first weeks of Autumn.
The beauties of this alternative extend beyond the rope operating as the boundary. Entrance is generally free, one can watch from the boundary’s edge rather than a windy stand some distance from the actual play whilst players regularly wander around the boundary, some even happy to converse and wile away a few moments of their time. (It has been known for the occasional boundary fielder to strike up the odd conversation as well) Those that do attend are not seen as cows to be cashed and fleeced out of every pound in their pocket but a donation for a scorecard is always welcomed and a chat about proceedings regularly forthcoming.
Many of cricket’s much longed for delights are still present in this alternative. For anybody discovering a cricketing kindred spirit in Matthew Engel, take a journey to your nearest Minor County next summer. There are twenty of these second class counties around the country, each offering the intricacies and beauties of cricket already listed. Admittedly, the standard of play will not, and cannot, match that of the first class equivalent but the standard is still very high. But this level of cricket maintains many of the nuances that are disappearing at the highest levels as there aren’t the vast sums of money floating around and the Minor Counties have largely been left to their own devices because of the previous reason. The counties don’t require hundreds of punters to turn up in fancy dress or employ other silly gimmicks to sell tickets and they won’t sell you watered down lager and horrendous burger and chips for not much less than ten quid. They will more than likely be pleased that you have turned up at all and hopefully wouldn’t deem any spectators as ‘outside cricket.’ The overall experience isn’t perfect but it is very good. Give it a try.