Even though the weather had the final say at Bristol, the outcome was beyond any doubt long before the rain arrived on day four. I’m sorry, but 12 wickets in three days doesn’t make for good cricket – as was reinforced by rows of empty seats at Nevil Road even on the one day when the sun did shine.
Surrey’s Reece Topley was clearly frustrated. The 28-year-old seamer said: “We tried so many things.
There were chances created that just went into gaps. We beat the bat, we got some chances and we went up for LBs, but, at the end of the day, we were left feeling what more could we do?”
Stewards ordered a section of Surrey fans to take down two flags, because they were deemed offensive.
Both flags warned of the death of county cricket. With reports suggesting the County Championship is set to be split into three divisions of six teams starting in 2024, and just one in each alternating each year, the irony is that Gloucestershire’s future is at far greater risk than Surrey’s if the ECB and the counties do decide to go down that road.
If there is a reduction in the number of four-day fixtures – three divisions would mean 10 rounds of matches instead of 14 – you can bet it will be sold as being “less is more” in terms of quality and intensity. However, recent history shows the argument for less meaning more in the championship has only ever led to less red-ball cricket and more white-ball.
With so few championship fixtures the days of out-ground cricket are all but gone. Surrey are due to stage just one home game at Guildford this season – a 50-over clash against Leicestershire when The Hundred is in full swing, which means the Oval outfit will be picking from a squad left 13 players lighter by the new tournament.
At Surrey’s AGM last week, director of cricket Alec Stewart said: “I want to play championship cricket here whenever possible.
“Guildford is a historical part of the club and needs to continue to be that way, but the way the fixtures were set out I wanted to play here.
“I’m putting cricket first and, touch wood, hopefully it will pay dividends.”
With the ECB set to introduce minimum facilities standards from next summer, the worry is that even more grounds will disappear from the schedule, due to the increased cost of ensuring the additional venues are up to scratch.
Out-grounds used to be seen as essential in terms of spreading the gospel. Spectators, particularly youngsters, don’t just want to see the top players on television. Also, depending on where you live, it’s not always possible to get to your nearest county ground on a regular basis.
For instance, Beckenham, where Surrey will be playing Kent next week, is closer to home for a lot of Surrey fans than Kennington. How sad is it that supporters have to rely on Kent to stage a four-day game closer to what is actually Surrey?
Surrey haven’t exactly been short of wicketkeepers in recent years. But with Rory Burns not having donned the gloves since 2017, Ben Foakes suffering from a stiff back and Jamie Smith nursing a tight hamstring, they gave Josh Blake a try-out at Bristol last Saturday; seemingly in case anything happens to Ollie Pope.
At 23 and just three second 11 championship appearances under his belt, Blake, who plays club cricket for Sutton, seems a late-developer. But in that trio of games for the twos, he is already averaging 54.40 with the bat coming in at number six.
It emphasises, yet again, that the Oval outfit’s production line is still churning out players. But, as I say, with The Hundred removing 13 players when the Royal London Cup is taking place, it needs to be.