It’s normally John Pargiter that gets to review the sporting weekend and (bless him) boast about his betting coups, so apologies to him and our readers …
Amongst the semi-finals of the FA Cup, Grand National and Boat Race the opening of the cricket county championship passed almost unnoticed.
As ever the county game is in crisis. For years it has been poorly attended but now it has to compete with three varieties of the white ball format – T20, 50 over and shortly The Hundred – and the bigger counties like Warwickshire and Yorkshire have over-extended themselves in improving their grounds.
Surrey, with a turnover of £35 million, are the exception in being able to attract the best players (this season Jordan Clarke and Liam Plunkett) with their director of cricket Alec Stewart, through his high media profile, in position to promote the players for Test selection.
It is that selection that is the main asset of the county game. There is no other form of cricket from which to assess suitability. Like Brexit, it’s very much a generational thing with the old farts like Simon Heffer seeing it as representative of an England that might never actually have existed.
Being in Nice with the party, I watched the first semi-final in a sports bar – an Irish pub – in the port. It was a forgettable experience. In driving rain the feed went down, the bar was crowded with men on the prowl and I was forced to find an equally-crowded bar in the Old Town.
On the rare occasions that Brighton attacked you can be assured a waitress blocked my vision. It was a poor game only enlivened by the massed Brighton fans enjoying their day out.
The second semi-final yesterday was far more memorable. Again the massed fans of both teams provided a heated atmosphere and backcloth to a ding-dong encounter. It was what the FA Cup is all about – not one team like Manchester City going for the quadruple with the Cup the least important – but two well-matched sides providing a thriller.
Pargie messaged to tell me after the late equaliser that he had backed the draw and had Graeme McDowell and Jason Kokrak placed in the Texas Open.
Normal Pargie service will no doubt return next week for the Masters.