It’s lovely to be back. Welcome to another summer of careers waking and sighing, inexplicable collapses and Darren Stevens . The County Blog lives to fight another season thanks to so many of you who click on to read, and post B(elow) T(he) L(ine). If you’re a regular, thank you for coming back. If you’re new, hello! Please stick around – espresso and custard tarts available just before 11.
It’s a murky scene out of the train window as the cross-country trundles past Macclesfield, but there’s a reason that the most northerly games this round are in the midlands, and the forecast is brisk but dry around most of the grounds.
A quick resume: the Championship returns to two divisions as decided by the 2019 season, with ten in Division One, eight in Division Two. Nottinghamshire have pulled the shortest straw, languishing in the bottom division despite finally finding their form somewhere behind the laundry basket last summer. Covid regulations have largely disappeared, though those who test positive will have to withdraw from games. Two regulations that come into cricket law in October will be used in the Championship this season: no saliva on the ball, and the new batter to take strike no matter whether the previous batters crossed while a catch was being taken. Points wise: 16 for a win, eight for a tie or a draw (encouragement for counties not to gamble on result pitches.). First innings batting and bowling points in the first 110 overs work like this: Batting Points: 200 to 249 runs – 1 point, 250 to 299 runs – 2 points, 300 to 349 runs – 3 points, 350 to 399 runs – 4 points, 400 runs or over – 5 points. Bowling Points: 3 to 5 wickets taken – 1 point, 6 to 8 wickets taken – 2 points, 9 to 10 wickets taken – 3 points.
I’m heading to Edgbaston, where Champions Warwickshire start the season with a visit from Surrey – who can’t have another under-performing season, can they? Plenty to keep an eye on , with Rory Burns’s team of England nearly men, including Ollie Pope and Sam Curran, complemented by Hashim Amla and Kemar Roach. Dom Sibley returns for Warwicks after a winter of rebuilding work – Mark Robinson compared him to an overseas player in terms of his contribution.
Elsewhere: Essex and Kent meet at Chelmsford for an (on paper) one-sided affair (Zak Crawley is rested), Somerset have to face Mohammad Abbas and Kyle Abbot at the Ageas Bowl, while Northants and Gloucestershire contest the battle of the newly(ish) promoted. In Division Two, Derbyshire’s Shan Masood avoids meeting his compatriot Shaheen Shah Afridi, yet to land at Middlesex, fresh-faced Sussex take on raging Nottinghamshire, Glamorgan and Durham meet at Cardiff, Worcestershire and Leicestershire at Grace Road. Yorkshire and Lancashire, meanwhile, skip the first round. Lancashire have announced a surplus of £1.8m for 2021 , while all eyes are on Yorkshire, in emergency recovery mode. They just announced a new sponsor, Indian streaming platform Clean Slate, after losing 43 sponsors in the fall out from the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal. “There’s a long journey to go,” Lord Patel told the BBC – “governance reform, culture change, listening to people, mindset changing.” Yorkshire await to hear whether they will be docked points by the ECB’s independent commission.
Some other overseas names to look out for, though not all will start today: Hasan Ali (Lancashire), Naseem Shah, Zafar Gohar, Marcus Harris (Gloucestershire), Haris Rauf (Yorkshire), Shan Masood (Derby), Azhar Ali (Worcestershire), Mohammad Rizwan and Cheteshwar Pujara (Sussex), Marnus Labuschagne and Michael Neser (Glamorgan).
The teams must throw themselves into the season without knowing how the cards will fall at the end, with a reorganisation likely for 2023, depending on the findings of the High Performance Review sparked by the Test team’s calamitous winter. Is this a referendum on the county game? I’ll leave Mark Robinson to answer that.
“Whatever county cricket does it can’t win, can it? I think the game of cricket just needs some good news stories.”