The Spin | Enjoy the cricket season ahead … it will be the last of its kind | Tanya Aldred

The introduction of the Hundred in 2020 means a year of change for the county game, so the 2019 season – which also includes a home World Cup and Ashes – is to be cherished

As the morning’s rain turned hail, turned snow and, with 30 days left until the start of the County Championship, it seemed an apt time to pull out the calendar and mull things over.

This summer has long been highlighted on the England and Wales Cricket Board’s five-year wall chart in best fluorescent markers as THE BIG ONE. Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, has gone as far to say he is “giddy with excitement” about the “unbelievable opportunity for English cricket”, saying, “It’s up to us to make sure we take advantage of that.”

All of which is true – there is an oozingly-ripe smorgasbord of international cricket being served up in the UK over the next six months. In the men’s game, the season starts with one-day matches against Pakistan followed by a World Cup bonanza of 48 games at 11 venues over a month and a half to mid-July, a historic Test against Ireland at Lord’s and then a five–Test Ashes series from the start of August to mid-September; while England Women take on West Indies in June, and Australia in July.

(There is a slight caveat, of course, to the “once in a generation opportunity to … take people from the white-ball game directly into the Ashes series” in that only those with access to Sky will be able to watch the games live – though there will be coverage on Test Match Special and highlights on the BBC website. By contrast, in 1999, the last time the World Cup was held on these shores, the television coverage was shared between Sky and the BBC, with both squaring up to show the Final – probably the dampest squib of the entire competition. The champagne after the event that summer was a series against New Zealand, which England lost and as a result fell to the bottom of the Wisden Test rankings. That booby prize fell to Channel Four. Anyway …)

Forget for a minute the big bucks of international competition and take a long, loving look at the 2019 domestic season. Let your heart flutter at the quirks and the traditions, and then imagine it as the night before the morning after

The summer has a familiar feel: a 50-over competition, the Royal London Cup, which starts early like the old Benson & Hedges Cup, with a final in June; a T20 Blast played through the summer holidays; and a County Championship that this year includes seven rounds in June and July and one in August. There are festival games at the height of summer – the Isle of Wight in late May, Tunbridge Wells in mid-June, Scarborough in July and August. Weather permitting, of course weather permitting, there is more than enough for both anorak and baseball cap.

But, at the end of the season, everything changes. In the Championship, three teams will go up to Division One, making it a 10-team group, while only one team drops down as Division Two shrinks to eight. Then the next summer, the Championship gets elbowed towards the outer edges of the season to make way for The Hundred – the bells-and-whistles new competition that will dominate the school holidays, centred on only seven cities – Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Cardiff, Southampton and London. The 50-over competition will also be played during the summer holidays, but will not be open to foreign players, and is expected to become a format for up-and-coming talent.

Which brings us to the current Twenty20 competition, the Vitality Blast. That will be shifted to earlier in the season, which will give players a chance to win a spot in one of The Hundred teams, but also means the competition loses its prime July and August window .

The delights of Scarborough in the summer. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

The Blast has been, on the quiet, rather a success. Last year figures were again up – for at least the third year in a row – with an aggregate of 931,000 people attending matches and Finals Day again sold out at Edgbaston. Tickets went on sale in early March for this year’s competition and those for the big games – the Roses clashes and late nights at the Oval – will go fast.

A quick google brings a cornucopia of statty proof that the Blast is rather good at what it does, telling us 59% of last year’s runs were scored in boundaries, a fifth of them in sixes. First-innings scores have gone up from 152 in 2013 to 173 in 2018 and, astonishingly, the scoring rate in the North and South group stages last year (8.88) was the highest of any T20 competition in the known universe.

The leading wicket-taker in 2018, 20-year-old Pat Brown of the Worcestershire Rapids, was so emboldened as to put his name forward for the 2019 Indian Premier League auction, and the leading run-scorer, Sussex’s Laurie Evans, went on to become the leading batsman for Rajshahi Kings in the Bangladesh Premier League.

But for fans of Worcester (2018 winners) and Sussex (2009), and Leicester (three times champions) and Somerset (2005) and Sussex (2009) and Essex (who regularly host sell-outs) and little Northamptonshire (winners in 2013 and 2016), as well as Durham, Derbyshire and Kent (2007) there will be no big-name T20 games to watch locally over the summer holidays from 2020. They will have to travel to their nearest Hundred city, or plump for the sofa.

Whether the Hundred becomes the saviour of English cricket, or whether the former Somerset chairman, Andy Nash, is right to speculate that the endgame is eight super counties, with the others going semi-pro, the geography of the game is changing. This summer will be painted in sepia tones – so potter down to Grace Road or Chelmsford, Canterbury or New Road for an open-to-all 50-over game, a mid-summer Championship match or a T20 derby on a long July night, and enjoy it while you can.

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Tanya Aldred

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