Opinion: Flexibility needed to move the four-day game forward

Opinion: Flexibility needed to move the four-day game forward

After a dominant Somerset had to settle for a draw at Edgbaston in the last round of the Bob Willis Trophy, Felix Parkin gives his thoughts on the impact of games shortened by the weather.

Warwickshire v Somerset 2020
Steven Davies bats against Warwickshire in the Bob Willis trophy. Pic courtesy of Somerset Cricket on Youtube, with thanks.

At 5:13pm on Tuesday evening, Somerset players were forced to bump elbows with the Warwickshire players despite only needing a maximum of two wickets – although more likely one – for victory. With the sun beating down on the Edgbaston turf, it seemed a bizarre injustice that a team who had taken 58 wickets, at an average of just under a dismissal every 5 overs, would not be afforded any more time to prevent a draw; a draw that severely damages their chances of reaching a Lord’s Final.

Anyone watching the excellent live stream provided by Warwickshire would be hard-pushed to disagree with the umpires’ decision that the puddles on the outfield meant play would not be able to re-start before the cut-off time of 6pm. Even the most partisan of Somerset supporters would surely agree. The frustration I would share, however, is regarding the amount of perfectly good cricket conditions that were wasted throughout the four days.

It is necessary to preclude this by saying that the fact that cricket is back on is not just brilliant, it is extraordinary; and every county cricket lover should have an enormous amount of gratitude to the clubs, ground staff and the ECB.

Whilst indebted, if cricket is not back for us to devour, discuss and debate then why is it here?

I feel my protestations are noble ones. Somerset every inch deserved a victory against Warwickshire. From ball one, the home side were absolutely battered and, for the integrity of the so-far-brilliant Bob Willis Trophy, they really should have been afforded the time to complete what would have been one of their best victories in a catalogue of red-ball wins over the last five years.

More generally, the four day game has to be more flexible to move forward. The ease with which play is lost is so detrimental.

Given that the sun continued to illuminate Edgbaston until around 8pm on Tuesday, surely an unbendable cut-off time needs to be given a re-think? A summer evening’s honeycomb glaze is more than adequate conditions for cricket.

Earlier in the day, a shower had passed through and the umpires insisted on a pitch inspection for 2pm, half an hour after the rain had stopped. Inevitably, rain returned at 1:55pm. Twenty-five minutes of cricket time wasted? Admittedly, that’s more arguable due to player safety but, at a Test ground with drainage, it seemed pedantic.

Then there were the bizarre events of Day Two, when Somerset had batted all morning and afternoon in a bowl of gloom only to be, against their wishes, stripped of the evening session when the sky really did not look any different. If a batting side is happy to carry on and accept ‘bad light’ as just a condition the same as swing, should cricket not be played? 

The use of a single game example implies bitterness to be the fuel here, but it is in fact my general desire for results in long-form cricket. A traditionalist would tell you that the draw between Warwickshire and Somerset was “just one of those things”. “A quirk of the game”. A ten-year-old would tell you that a four day sporting contest ending in a draw renders the whole thing a pointless waste of time.

Apologies for invoking a childish need for a win or loss scenario, but the opening two rounds of the Bob Willis Trophy showed that four day cricket is so much better when we play cricket. And at least, if we are going to have draws, let a team have earned it rather than have it be granted it by God.

Who knows? If they’d have played, Warwickshire may have batted out till 8pm, and could have bumped elbows without rueful smiles to the departed clouds. 

So, let’s stop with wasting overs for it being slightly gloomy near the end of the day and end rigid cut-off and start times, so we can play as much cricket as we possibly can.


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