Thursday, 17 April 2014

Strongest League in the World?

The County season has started and the LVCC or the County Championship in pounds, shillings and pence has thrown up some cracking games already. One gentleman on social media this week described it as 'the strongest league in the world' and with us chaps at the Middle Stump not being the type to sit on the fence, I'd have to agree with him. The IPL may have started in other regions, but the corruption, Srini and that envelope have turned off a large number of cricket fans. For the longer form of the game, it is happening right here and right now.

A county game at beautiful Worcester

The Seventies and Eighties were halcyon years in the county game in England. The world's top players all plied their trade in the UK, and certainly were far more loyal to their sides than today's short term stars. Think of the best players of this era who were generally West Indian and you associate them with English counties; Viv Richards and Joel Garner at Somerset, Clive Lloyd at Lancashire, Wayne Daniel at Middlesex, Malcolm Marshall and Gordon Greenidge at Hampshire, Mikey Holding at Derbyshire and Courtney Walsh at Gloucestershire. Other nationalities also played here for many years such as Zaheer Abbas who laid down more foundations at Gloucester than Fred West, Asif Iqbal at Kent, Imran and Javed at Sussex, Eddie Barlow at Derby, and Barry Richards at Hamsphire. Others won championships virtually single handed such as Vince van der Bijl at Middlesex, or Sir Richard Hadlee, who not only won the title at Trent Bridge but also attempted to pull off the worst Antipodean cum Notts accent than any man, until Russell Crowe got the part of Robin Hood.

Clubs could play two overseas and the domestic game was strong. Our Test players also played much more for their counties and regularly the likes of David Gower would score a thousand runs for Leicestershire alone. In recent years, the Test player has been missing from the county game.

The Big Cat lifts a trophy for Lancashire

However, this week I have seen some excellent cricket being played and to see international players doing the business has been fantastic. Cook, Robson and Bell all got hundreds, Steven Finn is amongst the wickets and I believe the game is in fine fettle. One of the best bowlers in the world in Peter Siddle has arrived in Robin Hood's county swapping his baggy green cap for baggy green tights (well he does wear a sports bra), whilst Graeme Smith has pitched up at the Gasworks in Kennington. Chris Rogers has been a stalwart at Middlesex, Kane Williamson is at Yorkshire, Petersen at Somerset, and another Pietersen will play quite a bit. Even Eoin Morgan, a man who has shunned the four day game in recent years to pick up more rupees is now playing in the LVCC.

Morgan is not the only one turning away from the IPL. A competition that seems as corrupt as a combination of Ken Dodd's VAT bill and Lester Piggott's accountant, makes you wonder how much competition is actually there or if it is just a system to make money. Srini and the IPL may have given us the sunshine, the moonlight and the good times but you can't blame the corruption on the bookie!

Morgan...less Bollywood, more St John's Wood

Countries such as India have become so pre occupied with the shorter format that their longer term game is suffering. Only South Africa and Australia could have a competition close to the strength we have over here in the longer format. What was the Currie Cup has now become the Tinfoil Cup or some such name, and the traditional names of Border, Western Cape and Orange Free State have now been replaced by Cobras, Lions and Dolphins. South African cricket is strong but doesn't have the dough that our county game has, thus not attracting the best overseas players. This country has however, given us a great drinking game to play at the Test match this year called the Oscar Pistorius. Any time someone gets up to visit the toilet, you have to have four quick shots!

The Sheffield Shield in Australia is still strong but many of the Test players don't play. The system of being contracted to Cricket Australia obviously works for their national side, but a lot of Aussies would love to see them play in the domestic format. The Big Bash League is a fantastic spectacle and many Aussies have fallen in love with this format instead. Watching Victoria at the MCG with a handful of spectators in this behemoth of a stadium in a Shield match is no doubt a surreal experience, and like other parts of the world the quick fix of the shorter format is turning the Aussie on.

Siddle...Sydney Harbour Bridge to Trent Bridge
Meanwhile county cricket throws up games such as Durham v Northants this week which went down to the wire. The split in divisions a few years ago has ensured that this league is competitive all the way to the end, and it has got stronger every year. Salary caps mean it may be that the elite are strong and maybe their first eleven only, with fringe players weakening the standard. Only time will tell. County cricket may have its faults, and the crowds may be like a dyslexic on Twitter with 140 strange characters not making much sense, but let's be proud of what we have in the UK.

Whether it is the best or not in the world I really don't know, but I bloody love county cricket.