On the Front Foot: Championship bookends provide thrilling last chapter to long tale

Having just drawn breath, it may be appropriate to ask what it is precisely that the County Championship has to do to prove itself.

The thrilling climax to the season on Friday was a wonderful tale: until the very last hour of a competition which had started in April – back in spring – the title and indeed the promotion places were undecided.

Yet it has been treated with disdain, the old uncle in the corner of the room who, frankly, has seen better days and is easily ignored. If anybody cared to look closely, they would see and understand that his faculties and thirst for life remain intact.

The season of 2010 has bordered on a disgrace involving almost all concerned. The Championship has been forced to bookend the season.

Lucky though the organisers (the England and Wales Cricket Board, that is) were in the dawning of a sunny spring April, it was never about to happen twice with an autumn finish.

The proceedings have been overlooked by large sections of the media, including newspapers of all hues who mistakenly assume that there is only one god where sport is concerned. BBC Radio 5 Live has been an honourable exception, although the riveting finish on Friday evening, when Nottinghamshire won, did not rate a mention on the BBC TV news.

The sort of rousing finish witnessed on Friday was extreme but not novel. Three years ago, a match at The Oval which finished in the dark ensured that the title went to Sussex. Yet had Lancashire made 25 more runs in pursuit of 489 they would have been champions.

Two years ago, Nottinghamshire were favourites going into the last match but a last-day defeat for them and victory for Durham gave the pennant to the latter. All of it was the stuff of sport. Anybody watching Notts eke out the runs and wickets they needed to get their bonus points against Lancs would know what really matters to the players. Others should have looked and learned.

Barney Castle rise from rubble

Another slightly more important cricketing contest reached its equally close culmination yesterday. After 178 years of existence, Barnard Castle, city of this column's dreams, reached the top division of the North Yorkshire & South Durham League for the first time. A small market town side, they were a ragamuffin (though often talented) bunch for years. How things have changed. Barney, as it always is to anybody living there, won the decisive match by 140 runs against their old rivals Seaton Carew. They are a typical club combination of spring and autumn, from a 50-year-old opening bowler, left-arm spinner David Stanwix (to whom OTFF kept wicket for a decade), to fellow left-arm spinner, 15-year-old James Quinn, a real crackerjack (to whom OTFF will never keep wicket). The town was ablaze with anticipation. The club chairman John Walker was already mulling over a fresh problem: how to afford a professional and who should it be?

Miller will keep his powder dry

National selector and ace after-dinner speaker Geoff Miller will speak at a dinner in Brighton on 18 November, a week before the Ashes. Organisers are billing it as a way for cricket fans "to hear how England will go about trying to retain the Ashes this winter". Clearly they do not know their man. Miller, brilliant on his Derbyshire days, is tight-lipped on most selection matters.

Timely change, or timeless?

So at last a Test championship is to be inaugurated. Every four years, the top four teams in the world will play in a tournament lasting three weeks and consisting of two semi-finals and a final. It has not yet been worked out how the finalists qualify in the event of a drawn match. Welcome back to timeless Tests, which may not be what the ICC doctor ordered.


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