Friday, 5 September 2014

Column 27, 2014 – Howling empty void

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 99, Friday September 5, 2014.
[Full text below]

You can sit back from the edge of your seats, we stayed up. We did it the hard way: lost, but got the points. So next year we will remain in Regional Division One of what is generally thought to be the largest of its kind in the world, The Hampshire Cricket League (HCL).

I guess that kind of thing is hard to measure, and it sort of depends where you stop counting. There were, as far as I can tell, 342 men’s cricket teams competing in the HCL this year. Weather permitting that’s 3762 blokes playing league cricket throughout Hampshire every summer Saturday.

That’s not counting kids, colts, women and girls, a thriving disabled programme, or the 40 Southern Premier sides. Or of course the countless groundsmen, umpires, coaches, scorers, treasurers, tea-makers, secretaries and supporters. The point is, there’s a lot of us. All over the country there are many many thousands of people whose leisure time and social life revolve around recreational cricket.

Then all of a sudden, at the end of August, it just stops.

It’s an abrupt and cruel cessation. One minute you’re playing Saturday and Wednesday league and seeing if you can get away with the odd Sunday as well, the next minute there’s nothing but a couple of September friendlies, a few chilly net sessions and the occasional indoor game between you and a howling empty void, eight long months stretching ahead of you like a term in solitary confinement.

Usually, there is at least a winter Test tour or two to keep us going. But the England Test team now has a similar layoff to your average English club side. Eight cricket-free months with only the scraps off the table to be going on with.

By scraps off the table, I mean of course one dayers. After India we’re off to Sri Lanka, then there’s a tri-series in Australia before the World Cup. Because the World Cup is absolutely what this dearth is all about. It’s the sole reason for last year’s back-to-back Ashes, and why this year’s decks have been cleared.

No one else is having a Test detox. All the other Test nations play the long game right up to the World Cup. But I guess if we’re ever going to take ODIs seriously, we do need a run at it. As someone on twitter said recently, England still treat them like short Tests, while everyone else treats them like long T20s. We have until February to figure that out.

Next spring the Test drought is followed instantly by a flood. When the dam finally breaks, England play a faintly crazy 17 Tests in 10 months. In the meantime it’s either a strict diet of maximum-bosh-wallop, or watching the rest of the world play Tests. Until the first Saturday in May 2015 when the league starts up again, those are our choices. (Hint: Pakistan vs Australia starts next month.)

- ends 488 words -

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