When the County Championship fixture list was announced last week, many hoped it would include a healthy amount of August four-day games as England’s international Test side look to rebuild from a humiliating Ashes campaign.
Alas, the domestic game is in for another season without the long-form game taking place across the height of the English summer.
The County Championship gets underway in April and concludes in September, yet there is a month-long break in August for the 50-over cup competition, the Royal London Cup.
At the same time, the international side will play two of their three Tests against South Africa.
It has often been said that the gulf between the County Championship and the international game is huge in England, and it is.
But it has also been suggested that the county game needs to be played adjacent to England’s summer Tests.
The English domestic game is in dire need for a player pool the international set-up can trust and rely upon, and unless you’ve got those players on form in and around Test match weeks you cannot get that.
That said, we have had quite a shift in tradition in the form of the Twenty20 schedule.
The showpiece Edgbaston finals day has been switched to July, from September, in a move that will see the Vitality Blast competition condensed into a two-month period.
This means that from August onward, the entire schedule is one-day matches and four-day matches – until you factor in The Hundred, of course.
There is an increase in four-day matches played this season during June and July compared to last season – up to five from three – so credit must go to the schedulers for at least attempting to fill the summer with the longer format.
However, we are likely to see second-string teams competing in the one-day cup while the world’s best and brightest stars are competing in the money-making Hundred competition.
In addition to this, we will have the best in England playing the shortest format right when the senior men’s side are playing anything but.
County hope remains
There is a small sign of hope for coming seasons, however, with England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) managing director of county cricket Neil Snowball suggesting more could change next year.
”The County Championship is the blue-riband event. It is the primary first-class, red-ball competition. I don’t see that changing,” he said.
“Fewer matches might help. One of the things we say every year is we’re playing an awful lot of domestic cricket, and some people would feel we’re playing too much.
“It’s the quality of the cricket we’re playing in the right conditions. That’s what we need to try to focus on.”
One thing is for certain: England’s international set-up needs a thriving county game. But with only minor changes made in the schedule, it’s difficult to see where the catalyst to developing a reliable player pool comes from.