County Cricket: Sky Sports-quality coverage, Test-standard teams, and a perfect whiff of ramshackle | Jack Marshall's column

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Fairly or unfairly, county cricket has a reputation for leaning towards the archaic and the dour in a sporting world increasingly defined by novelty and irresistible narrative. And one thing contributes towards that reputation more than anything: visibility or lack thereof.

But things are changing. As April rolled into May, cricket fans the length and breadth of the country will no doubt have had their collective interest piqued by the proliferation of free online streams showcasing their favourite counties’ championship matches live. Heady stuff.

Lancashire’s coverage of games at the wonderful Old Trafford is exemplary, with the standard of the in-house production encompassing dual commentary teams, multi-camera angles, replays, and debates on the previous session’s play during intervals.

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It’s genuinely not hyperbole to compare the coverage to that offered by Sky Sports, with big-budget exceptions such as video analysis and the presence of Michael Atherton. But, then again, Lancashire’s coverage has David Lloyd, so eat your heart out, Athers.

Jimmy Anderson (right) celebrates a wicket with Hassan Ali (Andrew Matthews PA Wire)Jimmy Anderson (right) celebrates a wicket with Hassan Ali (Andrew Matthews PA Wire)
Jimmy Anderson (right) celebrates a wicket with Hassan Ali (Andrew Matthews PA Wire)

But, because it’s county cricket, there’s still a wonderful susurrus of ramshackle about things, too: whilst watching Lancashire v Warwickshire recently, a series of angry dialling tones punctuated the early afternoon hum before someone quickly unplugged their phone.

Trust me, this is no criticism. County cricket needs that faint whiff of rickety charm, it’s imbued into its soul. The game is about the low vibration of nearly-empty stands, of the slow creak of grass growing under high sun and thin cloud, of sparkling wine and pork pies.

It’s about comfort, soothing ebbs and flows of a game unfurling in tandem with a handful of other matches from Durham to Southampton. But it’s also about the zesty contrast of the sleepy setting and the high-performance athletes populating it.

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Lancashire can currently field a bowling attack of James Anderson, Hassan Ali, Saqib Mahmood, and Matt Parkinson, a quartet which is almost certainly better than England’s Test bowling line-up. They have Test-player-in-waiting Josh Bohannon as well as starlets Phil Salt, George Balderson, Luke Wood, and Danny Lamb.

The cricket they play is seriously high-quality and that it’s played against a soporific backdrop framed by Bumble’s dulcet tones - his broad Lancastrian droll all the thicker for its being broadcast exclusively for a Red Rose audience - is perfect.

We should cherish county cricket. Very simply, it’s a wonderful thing.