‘Spot fixing’ investigation taints County cricket openers
Allegations of “match irregularities” against two Essex cricketers overshadowed an otherwise revelatory opening round of County Championship fixtures.
All the pre-season talk centred on the earliest start to a county campaign in English history but some unseasonably fine weather ensured results in all six championship fixtures.
But while editors around the country ignored the traditional depiction of a freezing pensioner amongst a sea of empty seats in favour of a picture showing respectable crowds basking in spring sunshine, a storm was brewing over Chelmsford.
Essex police are investigating allegations that two Essex players were involved in what is known as ‘spot fixing’, where elements of a match other than the result itself are corrupted.
County cricket - and to a degree English cricket as a whole - has long perceived itself morally sound and a scandal on this scale could damage it’s already ailing reputation.
But away from the headlines generated by events in Essex the actual cricket was at times thrilling.
The ECB might have incurred the wrath of some with their scheduling this season but the decision to raise the incentive of victory from 12 points to 16 is rubbing off already.
Essex ensured they had something to smile about as Ryan ten Doeschate took the winning wicket with the penultimate ball of the match against Hampshire to secure a 64-run victory.
Elsewhere, Matthew Hoggard’s career as Leicestershire captain got off to a successful start with a six wicket win over Northants while another controversial appointment, Surrey’s Rory Hamilton-Brown, saw his team thumped by Derbyshire at the Oval.
Andrew Strauss’ Middlesex were beaten by Worcestershire, who recorded a first championship win since 2008 despite England’s great white hope Steve Finn taking 9-37 in the second innings.
Yorkshire and Sussex also got their campaigns off to flying starts with wins over Warwickshire and Glamorgan respectively.
Flat pitches and average bowling attacks have stifled winning habits over the last few seasons but lively early season pitches could mean this season’s championship develops at a rapid pace.
But that is part of the problem.
The ECB has marginalised the first-class season by pushing it to the outer edges of an increasingly long campaign.
By the end of May teams will have played up to seven of their first class fixtures and some fans have become disgruntled by the apparent preference for T20 cricket.
But the shortest format fills the coffers of the counties and, though some are warning of a spectator backlash against the lengthened T20 competition, things seem unlikely to change any time soon.