Paul Edwards hails the start of the new season, which for Lancashire gets underway tomorrow morning at Aigburth
The start of the English cricket season remains endearingly haphazard.
As early as mid-March Middlesex's players were filmed playing a practice match against Loughborough University and they looked for all the world like polar explorers. At the end of the month champions Nottinghamshire took on the MCC in the traditional opening match of the new season in the far from traditional venue of Abu Dhabi. The University games began last Saturday and Mark Chilton already has a first-class average of 169; let us hope that is a happy portent for this most whole-hearted cricketer's benefit year.
And yet, for all the conscientous warming-up done in Leicestershire, the Middle East and the Parks, the season will really begin tomorrow with the first round of LV= County Championship matches. "In the spring, cricketers are fresh and eager; " wrote Neville Cardus, many years and many worlds ago, "ambition within them breaks into bud; new bats and flannels are as chaste as the April winds." Well, the cream flannels may have gone, but the budding ambition remains. When Glen Chapple's cricketers begin their exercises on the Aigburth outfield tomorrow morning, they will be aware that this is when the really serious stuff starts: 16 four-day games which will be followed up and down this land and across the globe by Lancashire supporters, almost all of them nurturing fond hopes of late summer glory.
There have been changes almost beyond number since Cardus's heyday: matches are longer, begin earlier in the season and are now played on covered wickets. The Championship now has to make room for two lucrative one-day competitions and almost everything bar jockstraps is sponsored. This season, above all, will seem odd for Manchester-based Lancashire supporters used to making the short journey to Old Trafford. The rotation of the square means that first-class cricket will not be played at the county's HQ until September. Until then, Liverpool will take centre stage, enthusiastically supported by Southport and Blackpool. Whatever the 1974 boundary changes may have stipulated, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, for one summer at least, county cricket is touring the county.
It will all be rather new, exciting and intimate. Instead of trying to identify cheering supporters in large stands, players will be able to chat with them on the boundary edge. Spectators will be able to stroll out to the middle and inspect the wicket being used in the current match. Even the media will be affected: any journalist covering Lancashire's home Championship games this season is likely to spend more time in a tent than the average Bedouin tribesman. No matter; no matter at all. It is all going to be enormous fun.
"Home comforts continue to hold appeal despite changing landscape," proclaims the headline in The Times this morning, and in the accompanying article the excellent Richard Hobson points out that predictions of the demise of county cricket were wide of the mark. He writes: "Anybody who considers county cricket soft should go to Liverpool tomorrow to watch Lancashire play Sussex, a fixture that has been fought as hard as a Test match in recent years." Exactly. And some of us, a few thousand perhaps, will making our way to Aigburth to see it all start - again. Have a good season. "Play!"
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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