Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: There is a reason why the story has been wickets – rather than runs – at the start of the season

BY MARCUS HOOK

It’s good to see that, in the first half of April, it’s possible for batsmen to make runs in the County Championship, rather than it being a story of wickets falling left, right and centre.

But there is a reason for it. The heavy roller is now available for both sides – not just the home team (don’t ask me why it wasn’t before) – and the red balls have a less pronounced seam than the ones used in 2018.

Over the winter, the ECB’s cricket committee recognised (at long last), that conditions were skewed too much in favour of the seamers, particularly with more and more championship games being played in April and September.

Wickets fell, on average, every 35.31 runs in the opening two rounds of County Championship matches, compared with 24.37 in the first two rounds in 2018 – and that’s with the season getting underway a fortnight earlier this time.

I know it’s early days, but hope the pendulum hasn’t swung too far in the other direction.

I well remember the 1990 season, when the powers that be decided the balls used in the County Championship should have practically no seam.

Ten batsmen made over 2,000 championship runs that year. With the benefit of hindsight, it failed to prepare county batsmen for Test cricket.

The experiment only served to prove that batsmen-friendly conditions reward decidedly average batters just as much as the seam-friendly conditions we’ve seen on late reward decidedly average bowlers.

England had hoped that, with Australia’s batsmen traditionally vulnerable to lateral movement, there would be sufficient Dukes balls left over from last year for them to be used in this summer’s Ashes Test series. However, by all accounts, Lord’s have practically run out of them, which should please the Aussies.

But now the attention turns to white-ball cricket over the next four weeks. Surrey have the tools needed to reach a fourth Royal London final in five years, but with just three teams from each group of nine going forward to the knockout phase, it’s essential the Oval outfit start as they mean to go on.

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