Let me entertain you

The thought of one, or possibly more, of the 18 counties not playing the first class game would previously have been unthinkable.

But the events of this summer have turned the cricket world on its head, with the catastrophic financial consequences of the Covid-19 crisis potentially causing more than a few counties to reassess their future.

Suddenly, what once looked certain now looks a markedly different.

For a man who made his first class debut at the age of 16, Billy Godleman, now 31, has already seen huge changes across the sport. By the time he retires, he might have witnessed another seismic shift.

For now, at least, though, the Derbyshire captain is unequivocal in his support for the current first class structure, insisting that the four-day game remains domestic cricket’s ultimate test.

“I’m not trying to avoid the question, but what I can say from my position as a current professional and someone who would like to stay involved in the game for many years to come, I think it’s very important that we have as many of the counties opting to play first class cricket as possible,” says Godleman.

“First and foremost, it’s the challenging format of the game and I think it’s really important for us, from an international perspective, that county cricket and particularly the County Championship is a thriving competition.

“For me personally, the first class hundred is the pinnacle. Having opened the batting for 15 years, I know how hard it is to get to three figures in that format. I’ve had a lot of failures during my career as well, so to go home after getting to those three figures is something that stays with you. A one-day or a white ball knock, when you’re not out and you see your team home in a run chase, that’s a close second but still, personally, the euphoria of scoring a hundred in a Championship innings stays with you a long, long time.”

Godleman currently has 21 of those tucked safely away, a tally which includes a career best 227 against Glamorgan in Division Two of the County Championship last season.

That was one of four centuries recorded by the former Essex and Middlesex man last season, a total that suggests the left-hander is getting better with age.

It also makes domestic cricket’s hiatus all the more frustrating.

“In the middle of my career, I actually had a self-imposed winter off when I didn’t touch a bat – but this is by far the longest I’ve gone without batting,” he says. “When the sun was out and when spring passed, I missed the sport terribly.

“Having been away from the game, away from the lads, away from the competition, away from feeling bat on ball, I think the feeling of excitement of being back doing what we loved has cancelled out everything else.

“I found the transition quite a comfortable one from a batting perspective but I’ve noticed it more from an energy point of view. We’re trying to cram a lot in, we’re having some very long days preparing for the start of the season and the body definitely wasn’t quite conditioned for the long weeks we’ve been doing.”

Derbyshire play their first fixture in the Bob Willis Trophy against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on Sunday, one of five away matches for the county as a result of England’s women using the club’s home ground throughout August.

“For the time being, I think we’re just excited to get out and play. I don’t think anyone is really looking beyond this little segment of time.”

Not being on familiar turf will be disappointing for the Derbyshire captain but after everything that has gone before this summer, it’s the least of his worries.

And for a county that has found itself in Division Two since 2013, it gives Godleman and his team-mates a welcome opportunity to test themselves against top flight opposition once again.

“For us, being a Division Two, as we have been for a number years, for us to be able to pit ourselves against two or three of the boys who have played in Division One for quite a long time is very exciting,” he says.

“Having a chance to play against Division One and Division Two teams is great – it’s something we could definitely carry forward. For the time being, I think we’re just excited to get out and play. I don’t think anyone is really looking beyond this little segment of time.

“The exposure it will get from all over the world, from various demographics of people as well, it will be really interesting to see what happens. We’re thrilled to be getting back out and playing competitive cricket.

“It would obviously be very nice to win these matches but at the end of the day we’re in the entertainment business – and that’s what we want to do, we want to put a smile on people’s faces and play some exciting cricket.”