Don Topley: We may need to look again at early season county cricket schedules

Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate was keen to get the game going at Headingley. Picture: ARCHANT

Essex skipper Ryan ten Doeschate was keen to get the game going at Headingley. Picture: ARCHANT

Cricket columnist Don Topley returns for the new season - but he’s not seen a lot of action yet!

Don Topley didn't get to commentate on a single ball at Headingley. Picture: DON TOPLEY

Don Topley didn't get to commentate on a single ball at Headingley. Picture: DON TOPLEY - Credit: Archant

Clearly, I enjoyed improving my tan whilst watching cricket but this spring weather I have come home to has been a complete nightmare for all cricketers – professional and recreational – and those important and cherished groundsmen.

It has been unbelievable to witness the rainfall (and snowfall) from March. Whilst some groundsmen were aided by most amateur cricket leagues putting back the start of their season by a week, the professional arenas were equally challenged.

I was at Headingley, Leeds, for the start of the County Championship season – Yorkshire v Essex – for BBC Radio and never commentated on a single ball throughout the four days as the outfield – not the square, or the pitch – was waterlogged down at the Rugby Stand End and deemed unfit for play for all four days.

In today’s game, the umpires are in charge rather than the captains. Essex’s, Ryan Ten Doeschate, was keen to play to commence his defence of the Championship title but the umpires appeared more reluctant.

With the option of no toss in Championship Cricket, Yorkshire were always going to be asked to bat first and Martyn Moxon’s gripe is his Yorkshire side have to play three of their first four matches in April at cold, damp and challenging Headingley, where it ‘seams’ all over the place.

Undoubtedly, the home side would be asked to bat and feel aggrieved about the no-toss rule. A certain disadvantage there.

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Yorkshire, who pre-seasoned in South Africa, only got outside to practice on four occasions, whilst at the other end of the country, Hampshire (who went to Barbados in February) enjoyed two sessions of a practice match v Cardiff University and only three outdoor sessions at The Ageas Bowl in their entire preseason – it’s been the wettest spring since the 1980.

Nottinghamshire, who were promoted last season, have played three successive away games and with an excellent bowling attack, including internationals Stuart Broad and Jake Ball, know they will probably bowl first in good April bowling conditions. Worcestershire, however, never have home games early on in fear that the River Severn annually floods their New Road ground, so again they basically know they will be bowling first when playing away – distinct advantages there.

Initially, the no toss rule was brought in three seasons ago to prevent home sides creating poor cricket pitches and it has been a success.

Don Topley's views for much of the season so far - here at the Ageas Bowl. Picture: DON TOPLEY

Don Topley's views for much of the season so far - here at the Ageas Bowl. Picture: DON TOPLEY - Credit: Archant

However, we may have to revisit where and why certain fixtures take place in early season.

Whilst commenting down at the Ageas Bowl for Hampshire v Essex, I came across the new national selector, Ed Smith. Ed opened the batting for England and captained Kent CCC and Middlesex CCC.

Following a surprise early retirement from the game he has commentated for Test Match Special and written for The Times.

He wasn’t always popular with his charges and also controversial in retirement. I was quite taken back when he immediately asked me about my thoughts about Player A and Player B.

In reality, 2018 current form left me without a clue as the adverse weather has followed me for four days at Leeds and now at a dull and damp Southampton.

Although a left field choice, Smith is well known to Andrew Strauss, England’s managing director. Smith has taken over the role from the previous chairman of selectors, James Whittaker.

He and the ECB have appointed their new (not really new) scouts to watch county cricket: Mike Hendrick, Bob Cottam, Jack Birkenshaw and John Emburey – interestingly no batsmen amongst that lot yet.

Smith, the successful ECB applicant, was chosen over the likes of Derek Pringle, Ronnie Irani, Andy Flower, Dominic Cork and Mick Newell to this England supremo’s post.

Smith’s No.2 Selector will be appointed in due course but I am championing Marcus Trescothick to be handed the role and then retire from playing.

- Next week: The proposed new cricket format of ‘100 Ball’ cricket – will it save the game?

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