Hampshire lost on Duckworth-Lewis, Glamorgan were washed out and Gareth Batty scrambled some lower order runs to see his team to victory. This is not a premonition of what awaits us on Wednesday, when the Royal London One-Day Cup gets underway, but the last time white-ball cricket featured so early in an English summer. A summer, as it happens, in which early-season domestic cricket was there to “fill the void” as the country awaited an Ashes bout which ended in perhaps the most glorious denouement to befall English cricket. The precedent bodes well.
Despite the same start date, 2005’s last round was played on 25 September, four months after this year’s final will occur. The only constant in domestic cricket’s structure is the expectation, with each new season, of change. This year it is the early shoehorning of the One-Day Cup. Getting it out of the way? Similar sentiments have already been expressed when the first-class season began five days before the clocks went forward, then again with the equal earliest start to the County Championship on 5 April.
There is an irony however. Because there is so much other, more important, cricket still to come we have context, a greater relevance, to this year’s domestic calendar. This was already evident in the County Championship; anyone who nailed their on-drive was pencilled in for Ashes selection.
The One-Day Cup starts the same day that England name their preliminary 15-man World Cup squad. They don’t have to be finalised until a month later: the end of the domestic tournament. England will insist, as they have done since early last year, that their squad is settled, the big decisions already made.
Yet with the likes of New Zealand’s Ross Taylor (Middlesex), the South African Heino Kuhn (Kent) and Australian international Glenn Maxwell (Lancashire) ready to pummel anything thrown their way, the domestic competition could prove a handy marker. Mirroring the fast, furious and frenetic nature of the World Cup, the Lord’s final will be held just five days before England’s bid for glory starts, also in London. Form, and familiarity, could be useful.
“It’s like that old cliché: you can never win it early doors but you can definitely lose it,” remarked Lancashire’s captain, Dane Vilas, whose side lost the first three matches of last year’s competition and failed to reach the knockout stages. This year, Lancashire will have played three matches in the first five days. “There’s a huge emphasis on the World Cup and we’ve got guys in our team who will be playing for that. Glenn Maxwell, he’s here for preparation so hopefully he can help us with how he goes about his game and to try and improve our 50-over cricket.”
So how to approach it? A development run, a warm-up, injury and fatigue prevention? Or as though competing in the World Cup itself? “It’s going to be about trying to perform as well as I can every game,” Maxwell says, casting aside the notion that there is any dilemma. “I’m probably not going to think about the format too much. I think that whatever role that Lancashire want me to play I’ll try and play that as well as I can and try and spend a lot more time out in the middle.”
Nottinghamshire, winners two years ago and with James Pattinson, Ben Duckett and Alex Hales all available to start, are odds on favourites. The reigning champions Hampshire look to be the side least affected by any World Cup manoeuvrings as they rely on the likes of last year’s heroes Rilee Rossou, Sam Northeast and captain James Vince to guide them through.
It’s likely, however, that this will be their last bid for glory. Just as one sparkly new format “stole most of [one-day cricket’s] thunder” in 2005 (Twenty20, if you were wondering), next year’s One-Day Cup will be consigned to a “development competition”, a “price to pay” for The Hundred.
It has been suggested that 50-over batting skills might be honed in the shorter formats instead. India, after all, are preparing for the World Cup through the IPL.
“I think that as long as you are facing the white ball and playing consistently, that’s good preparation regardless of whether it’s Twenty20 or one-day,” muses Australia’s Maxwell. “And guys still know their one-day game. For those middle-order batters I think the T20 game probably helps them.”
No problem consigning it to a development competition then? “I’d probably prefer to keep domestic one-day cricket,” Maxwell is resolute on this. “I think it’s a great stepping stone to playing international cricket and I think we’ve seen the countries with solid domestic competitions have successful international teams. You are probably seeing that with the [one-day] England side; they’ve got such a successful domestic competition and that is really rubbing off on their international side.
Contradictions. Confusion. The only constant, remember, is change. Maxwell’s approach perhaps the only solution: forget the format, let’s just play. Half a league, half a league, half a league onward; all in the valley rode the (one) Hundred; ours not to make reply, ours not to reason why, ours but to do and try.