MONDAY at Trent Bridge, and the din is relentless. Air horns blare, supporters burst into song and the stands seem to physically sway with the intensity of the atmosphere. England are playing Pakistan in their second World Cup group game, and a carnivalesque riot of colour ensues.

Tuesday at Chester-le-Street, and while the sport is the same, the scene could hardly be more different. It is the second day of Durham’s County Championship game with Derbyshire, and before the rain arrives to bring events to a premature conclusion, the sparse Riverside crowd applause politely as Durham’s bowlers celebrate an afternoon clatter of wickets.

It is flasks of tea rather than pints of lager, blankets draped across knees instead of Pakistani flags flying high. For all that Durham are fighting gamely to try to avoid a fifth successive defeat of the season, and for all that a midweek sporting event played over four seven-hour days is always going to have limited spectator appeal, you can’t help wonder whether anyone beyond the confines of the car park would care whether the home side succeed or not. If it rained for the next two days, what difference would it make?

The Northern Echo:

Welcome to cricket in 2019, a sport revelling in its moment in the spotlight, while simultaneously withering away in the heartlands and foothills that once sustained it. It can be argued that it is unfair to compare any sport’s World Cup showcase to the domestic competition that fleshes out the bulk of the season, but cricket is facing an especially acute problem as it attempts to hold on to its cherished position as England’s premier summer sport amid a rapidly-changing landscape.

What is the point of the County Championship anymore? In their messianic pursuit of a new audience, a new reason to exist, the cricketing authorities are in grave danger of killing off the long-established lifeblood of the game.

There was a time when the County Championship was the bedrock of the cricketing season, but it is long gone. This year, there is a Cricket World Cup in the middle of the calendar, not to mention the small matter of an Ashes series shoehorned into the end of the summer. We’ve already had the One-Day Cup, and soon there’ll be the T20 Blast, packing out the midsummer schedule with nights of crash, bang, wallop batting. Next year, the ECB will be falling over themselves to promote The Hundred, a new city-based competition that rips up the cricketing rulebook in an attempt to be on trend.

So where does the County Championship, supposedly the showpiece of the county game, fit in? It is tempting to suggest it is an afterthought, but that would imply the existence of any kind of thought at all.

For the last few years, the County Championship has been shunted to the margins of the summer schedule, with its inevitably truncated nature massively diminishing its appeal. Standards are declining, with international players notable only by their absence. Even if the World Cup was not currently taking place, England’s centrally-contracted players would still be strangers to the county game. Overseas stars, who once regarded a stint in England as a financial boon, can now make much more money elsewhere.

There is a widening gulf between the biggest and smallest counties, exacerbated by the current split into an eight-team top division and a ten-team tier two, and an even bigger gulf between the County Championship and the Test stage. Whereas the England selectors would once use the four-day county game as a feeder environment for the Test side, they are now much more likely to turn to those impressing with the white ball when they need to replenish the Test team.

Does any of this matter? If The Hundred takes off, what difference does it make if the County Championship is in a state of terminal decline?

It matters up here. Durham won’t have a team in The Hundred – too parochial, too Northern – and thanks to the draconian punishments meted out by the ECB, Emirates Riverside won’t be staging any Test matches in the foreseeable future either. Aside from this season’s three World Cup group games and an odd ODI, if you want to watch cricket in a huge swathe of the country between Leeds and Berwick, and across to Carlisle, days like yesterday are your staple diet.

The ECB need to recognise that. London might embrace The Hundred, but away from the big cities, cricket limps along in deserted stadiums staging a form of the game that even the authorities seem to think is archaic.

When was the last time the County Championship was promoted or championed? When was the last time it was actively pushed on television? Having sent Durham crashing to the foot of the Second Division, what are the national authorities doing to try to help the county recover and flourish?

The answer is precious little. If England go on to win the World Cup, their triumph will be lauded as a transformative moment for cricket. Scratch below the surface though, especially here in the North-East, and the picture will look rather different.