Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: New-look County Championship gives every team a chance to go for title glory

BY MARCUS HOOK

There was a bit of a kerfuffle on the final day of Surrey’s championship game with Leicester surrounding the condition of the ball, which the umpires deemed necessary to change just as the South Londoners were starting to make inroads.

In dry conditions, it’s common for fielders to throw the ball into the ground, when returning it to the keeper, to scuff up one side in an effort to make the ball swing more.

But the umpires exercised their prerogative. Ultimately their decisions are final, and that’s that. As long as they’re consistent in the application of law 41.3, I don’t have a problem with it.

However, watch this space, because what Surrey were doing has become common, if not accepted practice.

The composition of this season’s County Championship is growing on me – and not because Surrey, who, without the Currans (who are on IPL duty), continue to have difficulty bowling sides out.

Since winning the title in 2018 – when they put together a run of nine successive victories – the Oval outfit’s four-day record has been one of 12 losses, eight draws and just three successes – the sort of form which, but for the format changes brought in as a result of Covid-19, would make them relegation candidates.

There’s little doubt the introduction of promotion and relegation in 2000 has increased intensity significantly.

But, in recent years, the inequity of the two division structure is that you play some teams once and others twice; which means there’s a disadvantage if your one and only contest against a team who are there for the taking falls foul of the weather.

This year’s format means all 18 counties start the campaign with the chance of winning the title. So, if international calls and injuries – both of which Surrey know all about – hits you one year, everything is reset the following season.

In Surrey’s group Hampshire and Gloucestershire have wasted no time putting daylight between themselves and the rest of the pack chasing the top two spots, which guarantees Division One qualification later in the season.

The current round of matches sees Hampshire and Gloucester doing battle, so it will be fascinating to see which of the two has one foot in the next phase’s top flight come Sunday.

With 29 totals in excess of 300 and eight over 400, the opening two weeks of the season have, barring a few exceptions, seen bat dominate ball even though many were predicting wickets galore.

The dry weather has obviously been a contributory factor, but the best way of producing and preparing players for the rigours of Test cricket is to play on good pitches – pitches that challenge batsmen to build an innings and attacks to find ways of taking wickets, rather than leaving it to the conditions.

 


 

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