The return of T20 provided optimism on the pitch but continued uncertainty off it.
The ECB’s decision to move games to a predominantly Friday night slot throughout the first half of the season was intended primarily to increase attendances and perhaps more importantly the financial returns from the tournament.
There’s no doubt that the previous mid-summer tournament had, for the vast majority of counties, been a damp squib, with too much variation in the days games took place and apathy setting in through a relentless cramming in of fixtures.
The new format accepts relative defeat in the face of the IPL, Australia’s Big Bash and even the soon to start Caribbean Premier League but does give further opportunities for English players rather than embracing the retrograde step of forlornly building the competition around the travelling hoard of T20 tourists.
Yet while the traditional hotbeds of T20 attendance in the south continued to flourish, Durham and Yorkshire struggled to attract much more than the previous format.
It is of course early season and Worcestershire aren’t exactly the most glamorous opposition but the seemingly insurmountable issue of the lack of floodlights and poor transport links mean that this isn’t a problem which is likely to sort itself any time soon.
With the announcement that Durham will play the opening day of the Royal London Cup 50 over competition at South Northumberland’s ground in Newcastle in order to help celebrate the latter’s 150th birthday, you do wonder whether looking to potentially play games at outgrounds could be a way of spreading the market around the county, or in this case slightly beyond.
But in the face of this relative apathy, the cricket served up was impressive from the home side.
After a start which brought back memories of the years prior to 2008 when Durham had been nothing but consistently awful in the format, the partnership between debutant Calum MacLeod and Paul Collingwood was every bit as thrilling as you’d see in one the bigger T20 tournaments.
As in the IPL, there was the old timer using every bit of their nous and experience to play what might be considered traditional cricket shots to impressive effect and on the other there was, what we might loosely term for this alone, the exciting young foreign import unleashing a range of modern shots of the type that appal your granddad.
While being imported all the way from Scotland might be pushing the foreign narrative somewhat, MacLeod’s debut was undoubtedly good for the box office and would have drawn more national coverage had it been scored by an established name.
While his use of the ramp was inconsistent, his ability to hit all the way around the ground was genuinely exciting and deserved a bigger audience than it received.
While Collingwood, who by his own admission has just decided to ‘hit the ball harder’ this season, followed up his runs with a tidy bowling spell, it was also pleasing to see Scott Borthwick bowl with much greater control in limited overs cricket than he has in the past.
Yet this game has felt like a brief glimmer of hope in amongst the continued struggles in the Championship, with, at the time of writing, Durham praying for intervention from the weather in their game against Somerset.
While there have been individual components sporadically clicking, something which can essentially win you games in T20 as MacLeod and Collingwood demonstrated, the overall performances have been sloppy in comparison to last year, especially in the field.
While it’s not yet time to panic, another poor performance at Trent Bridge next week and dark mutterings may yet grow louder.