Summer’s lease hath all too short a date. Who can argue with Warwickshire’s old stalwart in advance of the 2019 cricket season? This is a summer that has all cricket fans salivating and it will be gone before they know it. It is one to savour, especially since it is accompanied by the grim knowledge that summers will never be the same again.
The 2019 international schedule for the men’s game has been well rehearsed: a World Cup, during which there will be a match (or two) on your screens (if you are among the minority with the appropriate viewing card) every day between 30 May and 6 July, after which come the semi-finals at Old Trafford and Edgbaston and the final at Lord’s on 14 July. England, despite frailties in the bowling department, have never been so strongly fancied to win the trophy. So failure to secure a semi-final place would constitute a grave disappointment while victory should galvanise the game in this country.
Once the World Cup is over, there is England’s first Test at Lord’s against Ireland, to be contested over four days, followed by an Ashes series that starts and finishes later than any other in this country. There will be five Tests against an Australia side who appear to be recovering fast from the traumas of the last 12 months, which will be crammed in between 1 August and 16 September.
For the true supporters of the county game there is also a treat in store this summer: the possibility of watching County Championship cricket without a balaclava and a flask of hot soup. For one season only the championship game has infiltrated the middle of the summer. This has more to do with the World Cup than a merciful change of heart at the England and Wales Cricket Board.
It was decided to bring forward the domestic 50-over competition, the Royal London Cup, which this year starts on 17 April with a final on 25 May, to allow potential World Cup cricketers an opportunity to play this format of the game early in the season. However, this acknowledgment that some sort of practice might be beneficial applies only this summer. This will not be the case for future World Cups, since domestic 50-over cricket in this country will be severely diminished from 2020 onwards as it will no longer be contested by players who are anywhere near England’s ODI side. The best white‑ball cricketers will be playing in the Hundred instead (or for the Test side). It is not immediately obvious how it is deemed vital to provide an opportunity to play 50-over matches before the 2019 World Cup but not before the 2023 tournament. The bonus for county fans, spin bowlers and batsmen is that there will be a lot of Championship cricket in June and July before a hiatus for the T20 Blast between 18 July and 18 August.
There is an important change to the championship this summer. Only one side will be relegated from the First Division while three teams will be promoted from the Second. This enables the First Division of 2020 to contain 10 teams, while the Second Division will be reduced to eight. The change is to be welcomed, since it better reflects the strength of county cricket, though those who delight in symmetry will despair that the sides in the top division will play some opponents once, some twice.
This could result in a more enterprising approach from captains in both divisions. In the First they may be more inclined to go headlong for victory since only one team goes down; in the Second there will be an intriguing race to make the top three.
At the outset the expectation is that three out of Lancashire, Middlesex, Sussex and Worcestershire will gain First Division status. Those who fret that the machinations of the ECB are heading towards an elite top division playing at Test grounds, where the sides contesting the Hundred will be based, may not be cheering quite so vigorously for Lancashire or Middlesex (or Glamorgan).
There has already been an understandable trickle of the best players towards the Test grounds in the First Division; this is becoming a steady stream. Nottinghamshire have been searching primarily for batsmen. The interesting trio of Ben Slater from Derbyshire, Ben Duckett from Northamptonshire and Joe Clarke from Worcestershire, along with the talented all-rounder Zak Chappell, from Leicestershire, all begin their first season at Trent Bridge. Meanwhile, Warwickshire, now under the stewardship of Paul Farbrace, have sought and found bowlers from Bristol: Liam Norwell and Craig Miles.
It all begins in earnest on Friday when the season proper kicks off with the first of two early rounds of championship cricket. At Trent Bridge, there is the unusual prospect of two England heavyweights, Joe Root and Stuart Broad, playing against one another. No doubt Broad will be keen to demonstrate that he is an indispensable Test bowler in England, which was not the case throughout the winter tours.
There is scope for someone to force himself into the five-day side through weight of runs in county cricket. James Vince, say, is likely to have played 10 championship matches before England resume playing Tests this summer. After consultation with the chief selector, Ed Smith, Vince will open the batting for Hampshire, a sound and sensible declaration of intent since that is where the opportunities lie. Jason Roy and Joe Denly might do something similar, though in Roy’s case his opportunities to bat against a red ball will be limited by his presence at the World Cup; that might also apply to Denly, who is at the Indian Premier League.
So throughout the summer there will be the added piquancy of witnessing players pursuing a Test place. But for the truly dedicated fans, the ones the ECB has a tendency to take for granted, the pursuit of the championship, the burgeoning T20 Blast and even the Royal London Cup is what really matters in 2019. Victory in the World Cup and the Ashes would be nice, too. Enjoy it all while you can.
County Championship Last season of current setup starts on Friday – one side will be relegated, with three coming up. Concludes 26 September.
Royal London Cup
North and south groups, starting on 17 April and finishing 7 May. The quarter-finals are on 10 May, semis 12 May and the Lord’s final 25 May.
Vitality T20 Blast
North and south groups from 18 July to 30 August. The quarter-finals are from 4-7 September, with finals day on 21 September at Edgbaston.