Cricket: Counties struggling to keep heads above water

WITH THE second round of the County Championship due to finish today and just one positive result from the 11 matches completed so far, it would be fair to say the earliest-ever start to a season has not been a resounding success. Owing to weather more in keeping with, well, mid- April rather than mid-spring, the last domestic season before next year's streamlining of the first-class counties is taking an age to thaw.

The reason for beginning on 13 April, when Durham's Chester-le-Street ground was snowbound, is a congested summer featuring the World Cup, followed by four Tests against New Zealand, the new National League and Super Cup and an expanded NatWest Trophy.

Mike Gatting, the England selector now installed as first-team coach at Middlesex who, along with Warwickshire, were unfortunate enough to have two home Championship fixtures scheduled in the first two weeks, nevertheless believes the England Cricket Board has missed at least one trick.

"I think the World Cup has prompted everything to go into April this year and rain is just one of those things," Gatting said after his side's match against Lancashire was abandoned yesterday without a ball being bowled. "The problem is that games can go on till 7.40pm and it gets very dark at that time. I think it was a slight oversight."

Warwickshire's Brumbrella might have saved more of their game with Somerset had flat sheets not been outlawed. Their chief executive, Dennis Amiss, said: "It is disappointing when you think that 25 per cent of our Championship cricket at Edgbaston is already over and we've only had a couple of innings against Northants and one against Somerset.

"I can see pools of water all over the ground and Sunday's match against Worcester must be doubtful. For a local derby like that on a decent day you'd expect five or six thousand people, so that could cost us about pounds 25,000."

At Leicestershire, where the match against Nottinghamshire was abandoned as a draw, manager Jack Birkenshaw called for a later start and finish.

"I believe that mid-April is far too early to be playing Championship cricket," he said. "I think it would be far better to start in May and go on until the end of September or early October."

It is hard to fathom how a game so dependent on the weather was invented in a country with England's climate.

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