WHAT a summer it has been.
Or what a summer it will have been once the County Championship finishes in mid-December.
One jests, with that competition seemingly pushed further and further back into the season’s margins, but, on a serious note, 2019 has lived up to the hype.
Granted, England may not have won the Ashes, or indeed Yorkshire the Championship, but the World Cup win – and the manner of its winning – ensured that the last great summer of English cricket will be fondly remembered.
The last great summer?
Well, as every cricket fan knows, summers will never be the same again once The Hundred starts next year.
That tournament will only further marginalise the Championship, reduce the 50-over Cup to a development competition and, no doubt, take some of the gloss off the T20, too, a fourth format that is wanted, it would seem, only by those who stand to benefit from it financially.
This column has spent so much breath criticising The Hundred that it no longer has any breath to spend.
Truly, all of us have been wasting our breath – The Hundred is coming regardless of the fact that 90 per cent of cricket fans do not want it and fear for its effect on the other formats.
But let us not dwell for the minute on the miseries to come, but, instead, celebrate a summer that is well worth celebrating.
For it has thrown up two of the greatest days of cricket that we have ever seen – the World Cup final at Lord’s, and the final day of the Headingley Test against Australia.
For who will ever forget that tied World Cup final against New Zealand and the tied Super Over, or the Ben Stokes-inspired miracle of Headingley ’19?
Perhaps we could have had a Super Over to decide the Ashes, which ended 2-2 after an entertaining, sometimes brilliant, sometimes error-strewn series, one that ebbed and flowed from first ball to last.
It was a series that saw the continued redemption of Stokes, as it were, plus that of Australia’s Steve Smith after ‘sandpaper-gate’.
Smith, initially booed loudly by English crowds in response to the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, which saw him banned from the sport along with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, won them over with a Bradman-eque return of 774 runs at 110.57.
Had Smith played at Headingley, when he missed out due to the effects of having been floored by a Jofra Archer bouncer during the Lord’s Test, he might have challenged Bradman’s record series aggregate of 974 against England in 1930.
As it was, he thrilled with a style and stroke-play that was perhaps not dissimilar to the great man himself, although Warner’s redemption will have to wait after a calamitous rubber in which he managed just 95 runs in 10 innings at 9.50, his own aura of invincibility well and truly shattered.
Although Stokes and Smith were the standout attractions, it was also a summer that saw the rebirth of Stuart Broad and the continued emergence of Archer, who was crucial to England’s World Cup triumph.
Broad seemed to benefit from playing plenty of first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire as he finished England’s leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 23 at 26.65.
Archer topped England’s bowling averages with 22 at 20.27, while Pat Cummins (29 wickets at 19.62) and Josh Hazlewood (20 at 21.85) starred with the ball for Australia.
Other positives to emerge from the series included the batting of Rory Burns and Joe Denly for England, and Marnus Labuschagne for Australia.
But it was the summer itself that stood out, the summer that we’ll remember.
What fun. What cricket. What magical memories.