Yesterday saw the start of cricket’s 2022 County Championship season. As you may be aware, the England Test team have been having a rough time of it lately – in their last two series they were thrashed in the Ashes in Australia and then managed rather to snatch defeat from the jaws of prospective victory in the West Indies – and in the opinion of many people this is in part the fault of the inadequacies of the County Championship. Having said that, there are many other reasons advanced for this malaise (the introduction of The Hundred last summer being among them) but either which way you look at it, one win in 17 matches isn’t the sort of record England should have given the resources poured into the team.
The County Championship is rather far removed from that sort of dramatic and high-stakes arena. In the days when Ceefax was a thing, that was how most people followed most of the county campaign. Having said that, yesterday I went to watch Middlesex play Derbyshire at Lord’s, and getting into the iconic and splendid old ground was considerably more of a kerfuffle than I had been banking on. As I approached the gate I noticed that everyone else seemed to have passes to present. I had nothing; I had reckoned I’d just turn up and buy a ticket, much as one might at a Championship football match where the attendance would be significantly higher than for the first day of a county cricket match on a quite cold and pretty blustery day in April. (In The Guardian recently, Mike Selvey, a former England fast bowler, noted that in his day the season never began before April 28; this was a full three weeks earlier.)
I asked the woman on the gate: “Can’t I just buy a ticket now?” Her reply was almost clandestine. “Not officially,” she said. “But you can if you go to Car Park 6, just around the corner.” Feeling a bit like I’d walked into a John Le Carré story, I duly walked round the corner and located Car Park 6, where the attendant helpfully pointed me towards the office where I could make the requisite purchase. “It’s ridiculous,” said the guy next to me. “I’ve been coming to Lord’s for over 40 years and never known anything like this. It’s as if they don’t want anyone to watch the cricket!”
Once in the ground, it was abundantly apparent that overcrowding was not an issue. (I think the photo on the home page makes this point perfectly.) Derbyshire had won the toss and decided to field. When Mark Stoneman was smartly caught at midwicket to make Middlesex 13 for 1, that seemed to have been a fairly good move. By the close of play, with Stevie Eskinazi having made 118 and Middlesex on 307 for 4, it seemed substantially less so.
A fun day? Yes, given that I enjoy cricket. But having to book tickets in advance online (at least, that was what I was supposed to have done!) seems a bit unnecessary. A joy of county cricket was one’s ability just to pitch up, pay and enter. Maybe that will be a thing of the past. If so, think of this as the first of the summer whine.