March 2013 and the rain is coming down like vomit into a paper cup, the sky still tombstone grey and the hillsides threatened by late winter snows. But hark! In the distance, the tiny sound of a groundsman unlocking a shed. Slowly, more sounds emerge: zippers on kit bags peeled to reveal mouldy gloves and long-forgotten furry sandwiches; young men yawning as they convene at 8am outside the local gymnasium; lawnmowers spluttering into life. Yes, sumer is icumen in (sing Cuckoo!).
Throughout the long winter county twitter feeds were just full of funny cats and plugs for the local pantomime, but now they’re a stream of pre-season news. County A are off to Barbados! Player B just reached level 11 on the bleep test! New overseas star C has just lost 4-0 to India! This adds to the tension of the build-up, the long slow weeks building up to a frenetic last day or so before the orgasm of county cricket embarrasses itself upon the tissue of the sporting calendar.
The traditional curtain-raiser (now there’s a phrase exclusive to sport) took place in Abu Dhabi, meaning that no-one gave a toss about it and the mainstream media were denied the page-filling pictures of Jim Troughton and Rikki Clarke fielding in the snow. The fact that the match between the champions (in this case Warwickshire) and the MCC takes place in the UAE really only leads to the conclusion that it’s a bit of a jolly. And then, starting on April 5th, it’s the university matches! Proper cricket, played on the hazy fields of Fenner’s and the Parks in front of lazy skiving students drunk on cheap cider, that for the purposes of career first-class statistics, are afforded the same status as a Test match at the Wankhede or SCG.
Now this might imply that we’re a bit cynical, but in truth these early matches don’t really get our juices running and just seem to delay the start of the actual County Championship – and that is something that we genuinely do get excited about. What’s more, this year the BBC will be commentating on every single match, ball-by-ball, via a combination of local radio and their website. This is entirely a good idea and will hopefully push county cricket back into the minds of sports fans this summer (particularly in a summer without the potential distraction of a big football tournament or the Olympics) – even though the likely audience will be those who would attend matches, listen to local radio coverage and follow intently online anyway.
So the season is underway and the proper season is approaching fast (it all begins on April 10th). Stay tuned for our previews to the season, where we absolutely will not be writing-off Derbyshire before they even face a ball.