The 2016 County Championship concluded overnight with an extraordinary finish to the final round of matches. I was up half the night, glued to my phone as updates came through. In the end, Middlesex took the title for the first time in 23 years after a contrived run chase came to a dramatic conclusion with a hat-trick from Toby Roland-Jones to deny Yorkshire. There has been plenty written about the way the match was set up, but I’ve not got a major issue with it. Both teams had to win to see off Somerset and claim the crown, so to not come to some sort of agreement would seem to me to be a dereliction of duty. Of course, serving up an hour of buffet bowling in order to manufacture a chase is never ideal, but to call it cheating shows a lack of understanding of the nuances of the game.
Having said that, it’s impossible not to feel sorry for Somerset, who have yet again been thwarted at the death. Their hundred plus year wait for a Championship title goes on. Chris Rogers had a stroming last match, scoring twin centuries in their destruction of Notts, but it still fell short. His retirement after the game ends a fine career. He made his presence felt in the South West and will be missed.
For me, the main thing to take away from the season is the continuing strength of the county game. The Championship coverage was the second most viewed on the BBC website as the matches reached their climax, it trended consistently on Twitter throughout the day and over 20,000 went through the Lord’s turnstiles over the four days. County cricket is much derided in some quarters, but the product is as strong as ever and its merits should be shouted from the rooftops. Funnily enough, the ECB’s new city T20 tournament will definitely erode the significance of the counties, and from next year the number of games in the First Division will be chopped to 14. Almost as if the game’s governing body in England don’t back their own premier competition as they should.
T20 has its place in the calendar and has revolutionised cricket for many. But pushing county cricket to the margins for it will alienate those who appreciate and love the to’s and fro’s of the longer format. A finish like yesterday’s is far more thrilling than anything T20 can produce in my opinion. So those who still have a fondness for county cricket – embrace it, sing its praises, and fight for it. It’s really worth it.