By Richard Clark
With the 2020 Women’s County T20 fixtures now out there for human consumption, thoughts have been turning in this parish to next summer’s Women’s County Cricket Day.
Question one on the agenda – will there be one? The abolition (there really is no other word for it) of the 50-over Championship has reduced the County calendar to just four days of cricket. Slim pickings, by any yardstick, but still County cricket, and, as Syd was quick to emphasise, while there is Women’s County Cricket there should be a Women’s County Cricket Day. He is right, of course.
So we’ve had the calendars out and we’ve been poring over Google Maps trying to assess the best of the four days to choose. And the thing is, it’s not easy, because there isn’t an ideal date. And for that reason, I thought it was worth letting everyone in on the factors that come into play here.
For those who don’t know, there are four rounds of fixtures, across five Divisions, scheduled on Friday 8th May, Monday 25th May (both Bank Holidays) and Sundays 7th and 21st June. Thirty-four “Counties” are, as with previous seasons, split into National Divisions 1 and 2 and a regionalised Division 3 – very roughly speaking split into South West, Eastern Counties, and Midlands/North.
Some maths to begin with – whatever date we choose, there will only be eleven “fixtures”. Or, to put it more accurately, 34 matches but only eleven venues where cricket is being played. The triangular nature of the T20 competition – whilst an excellent format – means that only a third of counties, rather than half of them, are “at home”. That’s not ideal when you want to spread the net as wide as possible. Still, nothing we can do about it…
It’s also worth pointing out that no venues are known yet, so we can only think in terms of Counties rather than specific grounds at this stage.
With the benefit of last year’s campaign, I had a “wish list” of factors in mind that would make up a perfect reprise. I didn’t expect it all to fall into place, but honestly, I’m not sure there could conceivably have been a less favourable combination of fixtures over the four dates!
Some desirables remained unchanged from last year – for example, it would ideally be fairly early in the season, before international duties deprived us of the star attractions, and a day where there were minimal clashes with men’s county cricket so that we weren’t overshadowed or seen to be in conflict with “The Other Game” at all.
But two other things mattered to me. WCCD 2019 was very South-centric, as several in Yorkshire and Lancashire in particular were swift to mention. We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened that the optimum date fell when most of the Northern and Midlands counties were down South. But it did mean that the first thing I looked for this year were the days when there was a good deal of cricket north of Watford!
Friends, let me tell you, both Yorkshire and Lancashire have just ONE home fixture. In both cases it’s the final day of the season – Sunday 21st June – which you might think would make it a front runner for WCCD.
(Incidentally, if you’re wondering about a mouth-watering “Roses” clash, the teams are in different Divisions, so there isn’t one…)
Be that as it may, there are problems with 21st June. Firstly, whilst the international fixtures haven’t been announced yet, it’s highly likely to be in the midst of England’s series against New Zealand, meaning no England players on show.
It’s also a date when Division 3C has no scheduled fixtures at present. Now I strongly suspect, based on what happened last summer (which would take too much explaining to bore you with right now), that that will change, but I’m reluctant to gamble on it, and it doesn’t sit right with me to potentially exclude four of the less-heralded counties from WCCD altogether.
On top of that, Sunday 21st June sees seven matches in the men’s T20 Blast – just the sort of clash with the men’s game that we really want to avoid if at all possible.
And while we’re on that subject, Sunday 7th June (round three of fixtures) also suffers from a likely clash with the New Zealand series – or, at the very least, pre-series training camps – as well as coming up against another packed day of T20 Blast action.
The other “wish list” item was to have as many counties as possible who were away on WCCD 2019 playing at home on WCCD 2020, for what I hope would be obvious reasons. I won’t numb you with the numbers, but take it from me that the two June dates work out worst on this score as well.
So what about the brace of Bank Holidays in May?
I like the feel of a Bank Holiday, if I’m honest. It always strikes me as being a “spare” day. People often have their Saturday and Sunday routines planned out, but a Bank Holiday is a bonus, a day you can fill with something a little out of the ordinary, a day you can turn into an “occasion”.
Monday 25th May has distinct advantages. There are men’s County Championship matches scheduled that day – in fact all 18 Counties are down to play – but here’s the thing. It’s day four! Some, maybe many, perhaps even most, will be done and dusted. Others will be in the death throes. It feels like a day when the men’s game will be off the radar to an extent – in fact, there might be county supporters looking for matches to watch as their hoped-for fare has finished early!
But there’s also a snag. The furthest women’s cricket ventures North that day is Staffordshire. There is cricket to be seen elsewhere in the Midlands – Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Shropshire all host games – but nothing beyond that cluster. It’s almost exactly the situation I wanted to avoid!
Friday 8th May appeals more on that score. We may be out of luck with the Houses of York and Lancaster, but there are home fixtures for Durham (where Lancashire are one of the visiting teams), Cheshire and Nottinghamshire as well as Staffordshire. Looking at the “dots” on my maps it’s by far the best geographical spread of the four days. And only three counties are at home having been at home last year – it’s the best of the four possible days in that regard too.
However, it’s a Friday, and somehow a Friday doesn’t really seem like a Bank Holiday as much as a Monday does, especially this one, which is a new innovation (I wasn’t aware of it myself until I went looking for reasons why the ECB had been so utterly bonkers as to schedule women’s county cricket on a bog-standard Friday!). Might the unexpected and away-from-the-norm nature of the day work against us?
It’s also early May, and – let’s not beat about the bush – this is England. It could well be the proverbial scorcher, but equally I spent much of last summer’s WCCD (6th May, in case you’d forgotten) huddled against a chilly breeze at North Maidenhead, and with the T20 days timetabled to finish as late as 7.30 pm similar weather this year wouldn’t be appealing.
(Oh, and it’s my wife’s birthday… but I won’t tell her if you don’t!)
So there you have it. Not straight-forward at all. At this stage no decision has been made, and won’t be until the international dates are known at the very least, just to be certain of covering all the bases.
In the meantime, all comments and thoughts from the CRICKETher family are welcome and will be thrown into the mix – it’s not my day, it’s not Raf and Syd’s day, it belongs to all of us, so we’d love your input. You might come up with a compelling factor that none of us had considered!
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68