Outside Edge: It’s overcast in April; perfect for cricket

Diary of a cricket obsessive

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Student matches are good for the soul

A slate grey day in April is an ideal time to find the outside edge and thus this column returns, unencumbered by the razzmatazz of the World Cup.

With the LV = County Championship set to begin on the 12th April, today sees a pre-Easter treat in the form of a round of university games. It’s a chance for some of the pros to fill their boots against ever-willing students; and a challenge for those who need to make a good impression if they are to make the Championship 1st XI.

The advent of university centres of cricketing excellence in 2002 extended opportunities for students with ability, although individuals now play against county opposition much less than in the days when Oxford and Cambridge held an unreasonable monopoly. This season, the students of Cambridge will play three first-class matches. Mike Atherton played 25 such games for the University over three seasons back in the late 80s.

For spectators, a chance to see county players in action for little or no cost is a boon, even if most matches are fairly one-sided. There is something peculiarly engrossing about the informality of the setting. Autograph-hunting at Fenner’s might not so frequently yield the star names it did in the past (my brother and I asked Mike Gatting for his signature five times on a single sheet of paper circa 1987). But a trip to Cambridge today - or to one of the other student match-ups - will be good for the soul; a reminder that cricket is as much about British hardiness as it is Australian glamour or Indian hubbub.

The English cricket season gets underway this month

England need fans to care about ODIs

The World Cup was impressive in many ways: great organisation, enthusiastic crowds, awesome individual performances. Australia were worthy winners, the side’s pacemen just too much for the rest. So are we seeing the renaissance of the 50-over game?

Well let’s hope so.  But there was also a heavy dose of predictability about the way the tournament panned out. Bangladesh were the only surprising quarter-finalists – and bearing in mind how awful England were, it was hardly a great shock. The last four were the strong favourites to make the semis before the competition began. And of the seven knock-out games, only one – the semi-final between New Zealand and South Africa – was really close.

England have much to learn in ODI cricket

But if there can at least be a debate about whether the World Cup signalled a resurgence for ODIs, there can be no doubt that England are some way off a revival. Alastair Cook seems to think that hindsight shows he ought not to have been dropped for the tournament. That’s a bit of a stretch. If team selection was problematic, the shoving to the sidelines of Ravi Bopara was the more questionable decision. Yet above matters of player selection and performance lies a more fundamental concern: many English fans are not overly bothered by results in one-day cricket. Better scheduling is the key to changing that attitude.

Can Simmons inspire the Windies?

England will be glad to return to test cricket in the Caribbean after Easter. Will their hosts feel the same? Phil Simmons is the latest to take on the challenge of turning the region’s stars and bit parts into a team to make its predecessors proud. He has the right background: a solid playing career, decent coaching experience, and the respect of the cricketing fraternity.

Phil Simmons has left Ireland to return to the West Indies

England might not be quaking in their boots but Simmons has shown with Ireland that he can take potential a long way. Mind you, the Irish are motivated by a desire to show they should be given a test match. For the Windies, playing is taken for granted: the desire to win appears insufficient to unite the team and inspire greatness.