BY MARCUS HOOK
Surrey have been in action against Essex, the defending county champions this week, knowing that two victories from their last four matches will all but wrap up a first championship title since 2002.
That they got off to a great start, after being put into bat at Chelmsford, was all down to Rory Burns once again. The ball nipped around all day and not even someone of Dean Elgar’s experience looked as assured as Burnsey did.
In the wake of Alastair Cook’s decision to retire from international cricket the Oval Test, which gets underway today, would have been an ideal time to blood Burns, when England need at least one new opening batsman.
Burns not only tops the Division One run charts by a mile, he is also just seven months into his reign – and it looks like it will go down as a “reign” – as Surrey captain.
Following Cook’s announcement, Surrey-supporting cricket blogger Gary Naylor summed it up perfectly when he wrote: “I’ve seen Alastair Cook has scored more runs than any other batsman I’ve ever watched – and I can’t remember any of them. That, of course, is his greatest strength.”
Burns is cut from the same cloth. Apart from a penchant for cashing in on the lack of a third man and one or two nice punches through mid-wicket off the front foot, I can’t remember much about his 90, even though it was only on Tuesday.
Off the field, it now seems likely that the ECB will resist tinkering with the County Championship again.
Even though we’re less than two years into the switch to eight teams in Division One and 10 in Division Two – a switch from two divisions of nine – the majority of counties are said to be against the idea of moving to a conference system, which would have done away with promotion and relegation.
A proposal put forward by Sussex and Yorkshire for a three-league conference system, with play-offs to decide the final standings, would have seen the likes of Surrey having to play a Derbyshire or a Glamorgan; or worse still both.
With all due respect to the sides currently struggling in Division Two, playing some of them would not prepare English cricketers for international cricket.
What I do think, though, is there should be much bigger financial incentives for those teams, if they bring talent through.
One of the drawbacks with two divisions is that, time after time, the bigger clubs snap up a promising player without having played any part in their development.
In only the last fortnight Notts have signed Ben Slater from Derbyshire and Ben Duckett from Northants in an effort to stave off relegation, which they probably will achieve with those two on board.
But where does that leave Derbyshire, and where does it leave Northants? Firmly rooted in Division Two for at least two more years, most probably – that’s where.
The working group charged by the ECB with weighing up the proposal are also expected to recommend that, in 2020, the County Championship and T20 Blast are played alongside each other during the first part of the season, with the 50-over one-day cup being played during the six-week window in July and August set aside for the Hundred.