The 2021 English cricket summer is well on the way to being the bumper year the game missed out on in 2020 with visits of New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, not to mention the arrival of The Hundred.
But for all the razzmatazz set to fill our cricket-loving covid-affected lives, it is the re-emergence into the spotlight of the oldest and dearest part of the game that has got things off to the perfect start.
Until last year the County Championship had only ever been paused since its introduction in 1890 by two World Wars.
Now that it has resumed initially behind closed doors, it is flourishing in a way that it hasn’t done for generations thanks to a perfect storm of good weather, a conference format, available star players, improved streaming services, a run of eight weeks without interruption, and the attention of fans and broadcasters in the absence of the suspended IPL.
And after putting Middlesex’s stream onto their main cricket channel last week, Sky Sports will again bolster the coverage by putting Billy Root’s Glamorgan v Joe Root’s Yorkshire on Thursday before fans will be allowed back into grounds for the first time next week.
“The County Championship has been able to own the start of the season and create a real buzz around it,” said ECB Managing Director of County Cricket Neil Snowball.
“The feedback so far has been good and we could continue with this format next year.
“The quality of the cricket has been great, and having the likes of Stuart Broad and James Anderson playing has elevated it.
“County Championship cricket has got to be relevant. It is still the domestic trophy that players and coaches want to win. It is the blue riband event.
“But it has got to have good, competitive, compelling cricket and it’s got to have coverage and exposure.”
Anderson dismissing Aussie batting star Marnus Labuschagne in an Ashes year was a moment to savour, as too the career-best bowling figures of 7-126 for young leg-spinner Matt Parkinson or the twin hundreds of Haseeb Hameed, just three of so many great stories so far.
Improved streaming has not only allowed roughly 700,000 fans per round to tune into a basic feed online, but it has also helped Sky Cricket to use the gap in its schedule due to the IPL’s suspension to show four rounds of matches on its main channel.
“The suspension of the IPL meant we had to adapt and we decided to take advantage of the fantastic service that the counties are putting on with their streaming options,” said head of Sky Cricket Bryan Henderson. “Last week it was a Middlesex production and we simply added some commentators to it and an extra camera.
“There is no question the County Championship is incredibly important as the highest level below international cricket and it develops high class cricketers.”