The 2015 County Cricket season again begins with the annual fixture between the County Champions and an MCC side in Abu Dhabi. Yorkshire will be taking-on a composite MCC side that will feature young English talent as well as some established names yet to be announced. It will be the sixth year in succession that the match will be played in the UAE with the pink ball likely to be used again given it’s a day/night game.
For the rest of the counties the groundwork for the new campaign will conclude closer to home with matches against the University sides. Many believe that playing fixtures against the students barely flexes the muscles of the pros and have little or no benefit to anybody.
Another issue with the current pre-season is that it staggers the start of the County Championship season, which could be better served with a full set of opening day fixtures much like they do with the opening day of the football calendar.
Tough Opening Schedules
There are no easy matches to start the season and get a side up and running. While Yorkshire have an opening match against Worcestershire at New Road they follow that up with a clash that could be an early title showdown against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge, where they clinched the title last year. It could be an early indicator as to who has the squad to challenge for the Division One title.
Another pair of sides who could be challenging for the title come the end of the season meet on the opening day as Somerset take on 2013 Champions Durham at Taunton. Both have good squad depth and depending on how England go about their squad for the tour of the West Indies this match could allow Ben Stokes to put his name forward for the summer Internationals.
In Division Two, there is an opening day battle of the bridge as Essex host Kent with both sides hoping to go better than last year by obtaining promotion but local bragging rights will outweigh any early season momentum. Meanwhile, Leicestershire will be hoping to avoid the wooden spoon again as they face Glamorgan who could be a challenger for that spot having lost a lot of talent during the off-season.
Runs in the Sun
The 50-over competition, once again known as the Royal London One-Day Cup, will be played in the back end of the season running from the late July through August. This is on the back of what was a successful competition last year that saw scores sky rocket and young England hopefuls grasp their opportunities.
In the long-term should benefit the England ODI side as the games are no longer being played on early season green wickets that saw the top order blown away. While the bowlers may not enjoy being smashed to all corners this will better prepare them for what is happening in the International game as scores over 300 are becoming more of a norm.
Having this block of matches also benefits the paying customers as they witness sides gathering momentum rather than players struggling to change tempo between four day matches and List A games which often create stagnant matches. This also allows sides out of Championship contention to target the competition, much like last year’s winners Warwickshire.
This year the ECB has decided to stick with the same format for the NatWest T20 Blast with most of the matches being played on Friday nights to try and attract as many families to the game as possible. The only change however is the number of matches being played under floodlights. It draws out the biggest crowds and generally creates the best atmospheres.
However, the schedule means the competition is drawn out over nearly three months. This makes it really difficult for not only players to maintain form across the most polar of formats (four day cricket and T20) but it also makes it difficult for sides to attract the big name players like David Warner, Virat Kohli and Brendon McCullum to commit to such a long schedule. However, it is only by getting this calibre of player to take part in the tournament will interest swell to the levels of the Big Bash League in Australia.
Ousting out grounds
A big part of County Cricket in the past has been counties taking the games away from their accustomed homes and being played at out grounds. Over the past few seasons the number of sides that host a “festival” is declining year-on-year and 2015 is no different.
Some traditional festivals, like Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham festival, are still making their annual appearance on the fixture list but some idyllic out grounds like Garon Park, once home of Essex, have been ripped from the schedule. Most sides host at least a couple of games away from their modern homes but others like Leicestershire and Worcestershire host their home matches in barely half-full stadia.
Playing at out grounds is a brilliant way to get more children to attend and allow them to have access to their heroes, which will make them all the more likely to come back. It would also benefit the players as I am sure they would rather play in front of a small but hostile crowd rather than an empty Trent Bridge.
What do you think of the 2015 Fixtures? Let us know in the comments section below and on Twitter @deepextra_cover using #countyfixtures