Full energy forward: County Cricket brings the digital revolution to the championship
English cricket is set to step up its digital revolution this summer as the counties take their live match coverage to a new level, making all advanced streams available for free through a single smartphone app for the first time.
While the government's roadmap out of lockdown means fans will have to wait until the seventh round of the LV = Insurance County Championship on May 20 before returning to the grounds in reduced numbers, video coverage of domestic cricket was online never so good.
Continuing the upward trend of recent seasons, each county will have between two and six cameras covering every game live, so the ball can be followed, different angles and more reps possible. The days when a catch goes up just to be held off-screen or dropped are on the way out.
From Thursday's frosty first round, fans will not only be able to access games via their club's website or YouTube channel, but each stream will also be available for free via a live hub on the ECB website and directly via the England Cricket app . This means a one-stop-shop that will make it easier for registered viewers to switch between games.
Combined with on-screen graphics and enhanced sound, the service is moving towards full broadcast quality from a number of countries. Commentary continues to be mostly provided by local BBC radio services, although some clubs, including Middlesex and Gloucestershire, now have internal broadcast teams.
Nottinghamshire pioneered in 2014, streaming footage from two fixed cameras originally used by team analysts. Others soon followed, but the standard varied across the top 18 counties, with some charging access or tricking users into sharing their personal information.
The move to improve streamed coverage of County Cricket took off last summer after the digital rights were changed as part of English Cricket's broadcast deal, which eventually enabled better online visibility. This, combined with the absence of viewers due to the pandemic, prompted the counties to innovate.
Durham in friendly action at the University Cricket Ground earlier this week. Photo: Lee Smith / Reuters
Surrey's multi-camera offering was the first to partner with Facebook while Somerset tried out the use of drone footage and has long been recognized as a premier club for the use of in-play replay. Last summer they broke 100,000 viewers for a single day of top-notch cricket in Taunton at the Bob Willis Trophy.
Somerset is one of a number of clubs that use moderators and experts to add that “TV feel” to T20 Blast games. In a digital arms race, Nottinghamshire is set to consider using up to 12 cameras when broadcasting the shortest format this summer.
The availability of each stream through the ECB's app is seen as a major advancement in terms of usability and convenience. The increasing number of viewpoints should improve the quality of both the online highlights packages and the clips distributed on social media.
There is an acceptance that initial teething problems could arise with this central hub, although there is hope that an improved offering over the course of a season where the Hundred – not the T20 Blast – hand out the rich will create record-breaking online audiences for County Cricket will supply Prime Slot during the school holidays.
The Guardian is also aware that Sky intends to televise a four-day cricket in early summer, with the championship game between Surrey and Middlesex most likely starting May 20. This falls in the finals before England selects their squad for the two-test series against New Zealand. At that point, any contender – with the exception of those playing in the Indian Premier League – should have proven themselves for their county.
Billy Stanlake (Derbyshire, Group 1): At 6 feet 7 inches and able to bowl at a serious pace, Stanlake is likely to always catch the eye. He has only made eight top-notch appearances but believes he can succeed in red ball cricket and that England could suit him in the preseason.
Tom Lammonby (Somerset, Group Two): A century in Somerset's final warm-up game against Glamorgan suggests the 20-year-old left-hander is poised to build on form from last year when he was unexpectedly thrown into the team from the top Order.
Amar Virdi (Surrey, Group 2): After limiting back injuries and fitness problems to just five appearances in 2019, Virdi was Surrey's leading wicket-taker at the Bob Willis Trophy last summer and spent the winter in the English test bubble as one of six reserve players hope to an unexpected pause that never came.
Jordan Cox (Kent, Group Three): OK, nearly three-quarters of Cox's top-notch runs last summer were scored in a spectacular, undefeated inning of 238 against Sussex, but the 20-year-old wicketkeeper batsman looks promising and it's also part of a Kent site that looks full of potential.
Jordan Thompson (Yorkshire, Group Three): Thompson was the unexpected breakout star of the Bob Willis Trophy campaign in Yorkshire last summer. Team seat.
Liam Patterson-White (Nottinghamshire, Group 1): Patterson-White took 20 wickets in 2019 with 21 and achieved a prime half-century to establish itself as a left-wing substance spinner. A five against Warwickshire in the preseason suggests we'll see a lot more of him this summer. Simon Burnton
Test captain Joe Root will play against Glamorgan and Kent in Yorkshire's first two games before settling on the rest of his schedule ahead of a busy summer of testing, while Jimmy Anderson (Lancashire) and Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire) will miss the first two rounds , but then play at least three games in the lead time.
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Fast bowler Mark Wood is not expected to appear for Durham until May, while England have not yet decided whether Jofra Archer can be sidelined for the second half of the IPL or whether to return from a longstanding elbow injury at Sussex.
Red Ball specialists like Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Jack Leach will likely be fully available to their counties until the roster meets at Lords on June 2nd ahead of the first test.