Lancashire try to fan the embers

Leicestershire 385 and 94-3
v Lancashire 275

There are small signs that the old boy is fighting back. This is still pretty far from making a full recovery, which is hardly surprising when you are on a life-support system, but the distinctive mood of the County Championship is that it has had enough and isn't going to take it any more.

There are small signs that the old boy is fighting back. This is still pretty far from making a full recovery, which is hardly surprising when you are on a life-support system, but the distinctive mood of the County Championship is that it has had enough and isn't going to take it any more.

The most enduring cricket competition in the world has been copping flak from all sides as lacking in strength, support, direction and compunction. Splitting it into two divisions might have been one thing, but continuing to retain a three-up, three-down procedure is another.

Attendances are down 17 per cent in five years, and since they were nothing fancy then, the decline has been perceived in many quarters, almost casually, as terminal. It is certainly a soft target. The coin-cidence of the fixture list pitted together in the opening round of First Division matches two of the counties who have been particular candidates for sniping.

Lancashire are a big club – these matters are relative in cricket – fallen on spartan times, Leicestershire are a small one trying to repel the waves of doom. Both are on many pundits' lists of bottom-three finishers, partly because they have both shed good players faster than Jimmy Ormond puts on pounds, partly because they have a perpetual financial struggle.

Lancashire have an overdraft of £1.3 million and made a surplus of £214,000 last year. Leicestershire, with 7,000 fewer members, turned a £150,000 loss into a £24,000 profit and desperately needed to.

Yet enough may be enough. The criticism reached such shrill proportions that the game's guardians – those who support it, whose number is much greater than those who watch it – are doing what Brits do in times of travail: rallying round.

The England and Wales Cricket Board are being sensibly bullish about the future; they have managed to secure a new Championship sponsor for four years. Clubs, while recognising the need to be sensible about staffing and wages, are digging in. Salary caps – meaning the total, not the individual – are being talked about.

Pre-season press coverage was sympathetic. If it has not quite dwelt on a golden past that never was, it has recognised that here may be something worth persevering with and worth preserving. Why, even the Australians have been called to provide evidence that they admire the competition, especially since the split.

Jim Cumbes, Lancashire's chief executive, said: "We recognised long ago that diversification was necessary if we are to remain viable as a club and continue playing cricket. We must not forget that the Championship is a development ground. It still has a place because it is perhaps why people become members, and that brings in income of £600,000 a year to this club, which is very important."

But he is aware, and his members ought to realise, that the most significant star to appear at Old Trafford last year was Robbie Williams. His concerts made them £200,000, almost their total profit. If Lancashire have a grouse, it is not that there are no cricket heroes but that there are not enough pop idols doing open-air gigs.

"It is an uphill struggle," said Cumbes. "I still believe that we need fewer clubs, and the idea of three clubs going up and three down is ridiculous. It's 33 per cent of the membership. If that happened in the Premiership, that would mean seven being relegated." At least there is now recognition that it is a hard world out there. It is also accompanied by anger at the shortage of sympathy for the recent evolution in the game. Perhaps the culmination of the recent bout of easy disparagement came in the "Notes by the Editor" in the 2002 edition of Wisden Cricketers' Alamanack, the 139th. In calling for a domestic structure based on cities, not counties, the book was being intentionally radical, but it was still the behaviour of attention-seeking pimply youth rather than that of venerable sage.

The game still needs sponsors, and in recruiting one willing to part with £1m the ECB have scored a minor triumph. But the fact that they are a financial company rather than a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company – say a soft drinks manufacturer – speaks volumes. And they know it. As Cumbes said, sponsorship is hard to come by. Part of the problem is that many decision-makers in companies that may be appropriate have no affinity with cricket, victims of its gross neglect in state schools 20 years ago and before the clubs got to grips with it. The ECB are addressing that substantially, persuading a new generation about the merits of cricket, even Championship cricket.

Ah, the cricket. It was an engaging enough contest played in front of 2,000 people who would have filled a pleasant outground and given the sense of an event. In the Old Trafford bowl they were largely lost. City cricket indeed! Lancashire were dismissed for 275, 110 behind, with some loose batting. The new- ball pairing of Phillip DeFreitas and Devon Malcolm had 75 years between them, supporting those, including Wisden's editor, who say there are no bowlers any more.

DeFreitas took six wickets to add to his 51 runs in the first innings, showing abundant enthusiasm for the cause. It took his tally of first-class wickets to 1,100, the most among current English players. Alec Swann, on his debut for Lancashire, was their top scorer with a dogged, well-fashioned 80 after being dropped on 16.

David Byas, the former Yorkshire captain, making a somewhat more notorious Lancashire debut, had no such luck. He was lbw first ball to a full-length inswinger. Leicestershire increased their lead, on a pitch betraying indications of uneven bounce, to 204. But it all went on until 7.05, which meant seven hours, five minutes of cricket, a nonsense on the part of the players and the game, which once more reduced sympathy for the old boy.

The Championship is now being sponsored by Frizzell, which is pronounced as in "gazelle", denoting grace and speed, and not "drizzle", as in a right shower.

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
News
i100
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star