County cricket and the beauty and romance of England’s cricket summer | Opinion
English county cricket, in steady decline for a while, is struggling to survive. In years past, this was the ‘nursery’ where cricketers, both aspiring and accomplished, came to complete their cricket education.cricket Updated: Jun 08, 2017 14:19 IST
England’s days of dominating world cricket are long over but in beauty and old-world charm, it is still the ‘home’ of cricket. There is something magical about cricket in the English summer, with players in whites playing on lush green outfields in sunshine that is warm and soothing.
Some would dismiss these thoughts as outdated, silly and romantic. The MCC ceased to run cricket many years ago though they still make laws that govern the sport. The ICC moved out of their cramped office at Lord’s to set up camp in Dubai, the commercial hub easily accessible to all major Test-playing nations.
Even as the sun continues to shine across cricket turfs in summer, dark clouds surround English cricket. The youth ignore cricket, football is their first-choice sport. Among school-going children, cricket has completely fallen off the radar -- they are just not interested.
The results of a recent survey to find out the sports preferences of youngsters came as a rude shock to the ECB. The survey confirmed cricket did not figure in their priorities and, worse, kids recognised English wrestlers but not top cricket stars, Joe Root and Ben Stokes.
County cricket, in steady decline for a while, is struggling to survive. In years past, this was the ‘nursery’ where cricketers, both aspiring and accomplished, came to complete their cricket education. Five months on the road, in the company of hard-nosed disciplined English professionals, was considered essential cricket experience.
Prominent Indian players bought into this thinking. Batsmen from different eras (SMG, SRT, Rahul Dravid to Cheteshwar Pujara now) and bowlers (Bishan Bedi down to Kapil Dev,Srinath and Zaheer Khan) admit a county stint was an enriching experience that improved their cricket.
County cricket is not anymore the preferred destination of cricketers. A cramped international schedule forces top stars to skip the English summer. They choose to rest their tired bodies than go through a long, punishing grind. The BCCI doesn’t allow players to play limited-over competitions in England, so that restricts opportunities for Indians.
If cricketers still look favourably at England, it is to gain respect and recognition. Getting one’s name on the Lord’s honour continues to drive players -- it is every cricketer’s dream to be placed alongside the greats of the game. Also, scoring runs in England is still a benchmark, a certificate of quality and class. Runs in England are never easy and only the best overcome testing conditions to succeed.
Dilip Vengsarkar (3 hundreds at Lord’s) and Rahul Dravid (3 Test hundreds in one series) are rated high in England and SMG, despite his stunning exploits elsewhere, was accepted as a ‘great’ only after his epic double hundred at the Oval. Vishwanath and VVS never got their due because of their modest record here.
To an extent, such narrow vision is now changing. England has come to terms that cricket is increasingly global and it does not own the sport. English cricket is embracing change, engaging actively with the community and launching an ambitious T20 tournament to stay relevant.
Cricket may have receded from prominence and lost ground, literally, but it remains a part of English tradition, culture and values. In a world where so much is crooked, bent and twisted, cricket teaches everyone to play with a straight bat. Anything not fair is ‘not cricket’.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior cricket writer and has been involved with IPL in official capacity)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.