The new fixture list for the 2009 cricket season was released today and produced a few talking points.
The County Championship retains it's usual format with the two divisions, however the Friends Provident trophy has abandoned it's regional system. The shire will therefore enjoy fixtures against Surrey, Yorkshire, Sussex and Durham in this year's group stages; unfortunately having two derby fixtures against Somerset dropped. However, I'm looking forward to trips to some grounds we haven't played at in recent years.
There is a change to the Twenty20 cup format for this season as well. In previous years we have seen a bonanza of the short format, packed into a few weeks in June. This has seen supporters being asked to turn out as much as three times in a week, and, particularly with tighter financial times, attendances have declines. The hope is that by spreading out the matches from late May to the end of June, interest will reignite.
I also believe it will help the cricket, because the close proximity of the matches means teams often feel the full force of momentum - both positive and negative. The shire last year got stuck in a rut of losing games, and it was no suprise they reeled off five consecutive winless matches. Leicestershire also sufferred, and the double-winners finished with only two wins from nine completed matches. The break will offer teams a chance to regroup in a different cricketing environment; although the impact on championship cricket in that period could be interesting - I recall Ross Taylor at Lord's last summer flashing at one of his early deliveries and spooning a catch: that test match came after nine weeks of IPL.
The other change for the shire is the Cheltenham festival - which I am personally disappointed with. It opens on a Sunday with a championship match, followed by pro40 matches on the Friday and Sunday, then the second championship match from the Monday-Thursday of the second week and the final match - a pro40 - on the Friday.
Therefore two of the three pro40 matches - which attract the biggest crowds - are on weekdays, therefore denying many people who will be at work or school the opportunity to attend. In addition, there is no cricket on the middle Saturday - always a popular day for spectators, and the championship matches are placed on days that are unattractive to corporate customers - Friday for instance has been abandoned, where businesses like to enjoy a whole day of entertainment, and the club can offer a wider range of catering options.
There is also a lack of Sunday cricket in the latter part of the season, which is a great shame for many spectators who enjoy a Sunday afternoon at the cricket - a traditional cricket-watching environment, and the club will suffer through reduced attendances and more reliance will be placed on television money - of which made up 50% of the shire's revenue last year.