“This will probably go down as one of the great Roses matches ever” was a statement made in the press box of Headingley Stadium five minutes before the first bowl.
Yorkshire are playing Lancashire in what the majority of the world would consider a completely meaningless county fixture.
It’s day four and Carnegie need to chase a 140-run deficit with just four wickets to spare.
County cricket is slowly descending into a training exercise to pad out the week before more entertaining variations of the game go on show.
The game is well in the balance. After Lancashire surged to a first innings total of 328, knocking their Pennine opponents back for just 239, it seemed as though the Lightning would get their first win at Headingley since 2007 (another press box stat there, so don’t pull me up on it!).
Well, a poor second innings performance left YCCC with around 300 to claw back over half of the third day, going into the fourth. It looked to be going well until a fourth wicket collapse saw the home side start the final day surely too far out of reach.
So, regardless of result, this game is apparently going into the history books, and yet maybe 600 people will remember it, or at least remember next week they were present at all.
And this is the problem with county cricket, especially the four-day game. True county cricket is a retirement spectator activity for those who have backs too bad to play golf.
The game becomes a stat rather than an experience. You don’t remember that amazing fourth day catch at second slip against your rivals (Sidebottom c Smith for 16), quite like you remember the emotion of a goal being scored against a hated opponent (David Wetherall header, five yards out, Leeds Utd 1-0 Man Utd, 1997).
All that is remembered is a little figure in the bible-thin pages of Wisden for yet another year.
So why am I here?
I haven’t come here to watch one rival team against another – cricket just isn’t tribal enough for that. I haven’t come for the atmosphere in the stands, and there are no cheerleaders to be seen.
I can’t claim to understand the game much either. Check out this scorecard before play. It took me a good three minutes – that’s 180 seconds – to excavate Yorkshire’s total from the first innings… and I’ve now lost it again.
What I’m here for is to watch some good quality cricket, and this is where the county game differs from all others. I don’t care about remembering it tomorrow, or in a year from now. I just want to enjoy the moment and hopefully watch a good batting performance. The score helps – of course – it makes the skill of the lower orders battling through to the end even more engrossing and appreciated.
“In ten years time this will become a distant blur”. The press box conversation turns to memory, and what seems to be an apparent lack of it. Harking back to some match in 1980, one writer claims how he can hardly fathom what happened. Inevitably the conversation returns to Botham.
It seems this game will go the same way; reduced to the annals of an ageing reporter and cricket enthusiasts.
So where does this leave county cricket? The demographic on the terraces quite literally live in the moment, the moment is all they’ve got now, which is what I came for as well. It seems the four-day game is in a world of its own. Still the mainstay version of the game for players to develop test skills and chess-like discipline, county cricket is slowly descending into a training exercise to pad out the week before more entertaining variations of the game go on show.
And yet, some of us – even if only a very few on a sunny Saturday afternoon – some of us love it.
Incidentally, Lancashire won. A nice 50 partnership from Rashid and Shahzad ended as soon as it arrived, Shahzad edging into the gloves behind him. With 54 runs still needed Pyrah came in and did his bit, reducing the run chase to just 40 before lunch.
Yorkshire’s final pair got the chase down to 24 before Pyrah got his feet mixed up and the umpire raised his finger.
The fact Yorkshire forced their opponents to the break at least showed their commitment to what appeared to be a lost cause. As it is, the effort of remembering this game in a fortnight’s time looks like producing the same outcome.
Not that that matters.
“This game concludes that cricket offers the most exciting conclusions to a game watched by barely anybody”, came the final words of the Botham-era hack.