Matt Maher: A frosty start to a crucial year for cricket in this country

This week’s drastic drop in temperature will have surprised no-one who knows their sport.

Head Groundsman Steve Birks prepares the Trent Bridge playing surface
Head Groundsman Steve Birks prepares the Trent Bridge playing surface

Snow in April? What better way to welcome the cricket season, which begins today with the first round of County Championship fixtures.

This is a pivotal year for the domestic game and there really is no point pretending otherwise. Despite managing to squeeze a shortened season into August and September last year, the shutdown for most of the 2020 campaign is thought to have cost the 18 counties more than £100million combined.

Though the ripple effects will be felt for some considerable time, the hope is the next few months will eventually bring a return toward something close to normal.

The season will, of course, begin behind closed doors, something which will come as no surprise in the current climate.

It was a puzzle, however, to see cricket absent from the government’s initial list of pilot events for the return of spectators. Last summer it was very much at the forefront, with the largest crowd to watch sport in the Midlands since the outbreak of the pandemic still the 1,000 who witnessed Warwickshire and Worcestershire play a pre-season warm-up match in late July. Further pilot events were axed later that week in the wake of rising cases and cricket is yet to get a look-in since.

For now the counties, not to mention the ECB, will be keeping everything crossed crowds are back in large number by July when The Hundred – the new tournament on which so much has been staked – finally launches.

Though many established fans of the sport have expressed distaste with the format, the biggest question surrounding The Hundred is less the rules (which shouldn’t take too long to work out) and more whether it will generate the kind of revenue to make the whole thing worthwhile.

On that score, scepticism abounds. A confidential survey of all 18 county chief executives carried out his week by The Telegraph found only nine believe the competition will have a positive impact on the game.

Most concerningly for the traditionalists, the same survey found nine of those executives think their county will not be playing red-ball cricket a decade from now.

Though this year’s County Championship will be played in a slightly radical conference format, it continues to be pushed to the margins of the summer, with more than half of the matches set to be played before the first week of June.

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