Middlesex hosted a first gathering of domestic cricket’s four major trophies ahead of the start of the 2017 Specsavers County Championship campaign this Friday.
James Franklin, who lifted the old, gold Championship trophy last September after the memorable climax to the 2016 title race at Lord’s, came straight off the field at Merchant Taylors’ School in north London – where Middlesex were playing a pre-season fixture against Durham – to discuss the prospects for the season with Charlotte Edwards, Josh Poysden and Graeme White.
Edwards had brought the Kia Super League trophy, as the captain of inaugural champions Southern Vipers.
Poysden and White, whose promise and prowess as white-ball spinners earned them call-ups for both England Lions and the North-South Series during the winter, were representing the respective winners of the Royal London One-Day Cup and the NatWest T20 Blast – Warwickshire, and the Northants Steelbacks.
“It’s a visual reminder for the game that we now have four major trophies on offer in our domestic season,” said Clare Connor, the ECB’s director of England women’s cricket.
“We were all delighted by the impact made in the first KSL season, culminating in Charlotte and the Southern Vipers beating Western Storm on Finals Day at Chelmsford, and we’re excited by the prospects for 2017.
“We have live coverage of six games in the group phase of the competition on Sky Sports, all of which will be played as double headers with men’s games in the Blast, in addition to continued and extended radio coverage from the BBC.
“It’s brilliant for the women's game to see the KSL sitting alongside all the other competitions and series that are coming up in England and Wales this summer.”
Those competitions include two major world tournaments – the ICC Champions Trophy in June, followed by the Women’s World Cup in July. The Champions Trophy will be split between Edgbaston, Cardiff and the Oval, while the World Cup is focused on Derby and Leicester in the east Midlands, and Bristol and Taunton in the southwest – before the final at Lord’s on Sunday 23 July.
A long and busy international summer for England’s men begins in Bristol on Friday 5 May, with the first of two Royal London One-Day Internationals against Ireland – and the majority of England’s players will prepare for that series in the early stages of the Royal London One-Day Cup, which has been brought forward to a much earlier slot in the season in 2017, building to a Lord’s final on Saturday 1 July.
Warwickshire will launch their defence in a televised match against the Steelbacks in Northampton on 27 April – a contest that Poysden and White are already relishing.
The Blast begins on Friday 7 July, when the Steelbacks begin their bid to reach a fourth Finals Day in five years with a home game against Derbyshire Falcons – who have appointed the former Mumbai Indians coach John Wright as one of two new T20 specialists in the county game this season, alongside Dan Vettori at Middlesex.
But as ever in the spring, the focus for Middlesex and the other 17 counties is on the Championship, which begins with six fixtures – three in each division – this Friday.
Essex, who were the fifth trophy-winning team in 2016 as they stormed to the Division Two title, have an attractive home game against Lancashire – while Nottinghamshire begin their bid to bounce straight back after relegation with a short trip to Leicester.
Middlesex miss out on the first round of fixtures after claiming another nerve-shredding win in the traditional pre-season fixture against the MCC in Abu Dhabi last week, launching their first Championship defence since 1994 against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl on Friday 14 April.
“We know we’re up there to be shot at as champions,” Franklin told the assembled media at Merchant Taylors’, already with grass stains on his whites from the morning session against Durham. “The Championship is going to be an even tougher competition this season, with only eight teams in Division One, and a really high standard of cricket. But we’re all looking forward to the challenge.”