When counties first started to make live fixed-camera footage of their Championship matches available on their websites several years ago, few around the grounds expected much would come of it.
But demand among fans has been huge over recent years, and when the ECB finalised the terms of its new broadcast deal for 2020-24, several counties were delighted to hear that their wish for the strict restrictions previously imposed on them would be lifted.
As a result, multi-camera streams were on offer to the public for eight of the nine first-round Bob Willis Trophy fixtures, with Lancashire keeping theirs for members only. The majority are synced up to BBC radio commentary, though Middlesex will hire separate broadcasters for their feed next week with some advertisements between overs. Surrey's partnership with Facebook has been beneficial, with the club attracting around 200,000 viewers a day and streaming over 13,000 hours of coverage.
| Middlesex Cricket launches new and enhanced live streaming service for 2020 - launching this Saturday at Radlett #OneMiddlesex— Middlesex Cricket (@Middlesex_CCC) August 6, 2020
A major change this year has been the fact that streams no longer have to appear 'unlisted' on YouTube, meaning they are now accessible from club's profile pages and in search results. Somerset realised how much traffic they were missing out on when a pre-season friendly against Cardiff MCCU (which fell outside the terms of the broadcast deal) attracted thousands of views via search results, with Pakistani fans keen to watch Azhar Ali bat live.
"We ticked over 250,000 playbacks over the four days this week," said Ben Warren, Somerset's digital executive. "On day three we had 125,000 playbacks and views - we've never had that many for a day of red-ball cricket before. We're still learning on the job - this isn't quite live broadcasting, but we've got the two analyst cams, three fixed cameras around the ground, a slow-mo and a manned camera. It's a massive jump into a different world."
In particular, Warren is hopeful that if Babar Azam is able to fulfil his T20 Blast contract, the club will see a flood of views similar to the one that forced him to upgrade the server capacity on their website last year. "If he does come, it's a massive opportunity for us with audiences," he said.
To lose one Overton may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both would look like carelessness. So after Jamie's departure to Surrey on a three-year contract was confirmed last week, it was a major boost for Somerset when twin Craig committed his future to the club on Thursday.
The pair shared 14 Glamorgan wickets in a convincing win this week, during which Craig had kept his cards close to his chest about his future at the club. "We're still in negotiations," he said. "It's quite a tricky time." But despite offers from elsewhere, he has signed a three-year deal which will keep him at the club until 2023.
Jamie is currently set to stay at Somerset until the end of the season, but admitted he is approaching cricket on a "game-to-game basis" and did not rule out moving to Surrey on loan before his new deal starts.
"It's probably taken me six or seven months to finally decide," he said. "At times I feel like I'm a little bit down the pecking order here. Going out on loan [to Northants] last year didn't really help. I want to be playing cricket.
"I'm getting to an age where if I don't play for England in the next three years, then I'm probably not going to, and that's really what I want to do. I've got to be playing week in, week out to prove that I can do it at that level."
Every team that finished in the bottom five of Division Two last year won their opening game this week, with dramatic run chases pulled off by Derbyshire, who chased 365 against Notts with all of one ball remaining, and Leicestershire, who overhauled their target of 150 in 17 overs with eight balls to spare.
Head coach Paul Nixon was understandably delighted, but could not resist a sly dig. "Lancashire didn't want to come to the Fischer County Ground, and that gave us a little more steel," he said. "We were disappointed not to play at Grace Road after all the work by so many people put into making our ground ready."
In truth, it was hardly a surprise that Lancashire were reluctant to travel to a city that had been subject to a local lockdown for three weeks - though it will be intriguing to see if they still expect Nottinghamshire to come to Emirates Old Trafford on August 15, after stricter measures were imposed in Greater Manchester last week.
On top of their primary aim, a handful of Ireland players went into their ODI series against England with the prospect of a T20 Blast contract at the back of their minds. As a result of their rise to Test status, Irish players cannot play as locals in county cricket this year, with Paul Stirling already signed up to appear for Northamptonshire in the Blast on an overseas deal.
And it seems that at least one man has done enough to interest counties, with Leicestershire understood to be considering breakout star Curtis Campher as a possible replacement if Janneman Malan is unable to join for the Blast. Andy Balbirnie's nerveless hundred in the third ODI may also have earned him a suitor.
There was general bemusement at New Road when Dieter Klein, Leicestershire's left-arm seamer, decided to throw the ball back at Lancashire's Rob Jones in his follow-through despite the fact the batsman had not left his crease. Jones was struck on the left boot and hobbled off towards square leg, with the umpires awarding Lancashire five penalty runs for his troubles, judging Klein's throw to have been in an "inappropriate and dangerous manner".
Klein is likely to escape any major sanction, but will have three points added to his disciplinary record. If he makes two more similar breaches in the next two years, he will incur an automatic suspension.
Flats overlooking county grounds have always been premium real estate for diehard cricket fans, but especially so in the world of behind-closed-doors games.
Century for Nick Gubbins. And he's raised his bat to the six people on the balcony on the flats outside the ground who cheered very loudly when he passed the milestone.— Elizabeth Ammon (@legsidelizzy) August 1, 2020
At The Oval, Middlesex's centurion Nick Gubbins acknowledged the handful of supporters sat on the balcony of an adjacent flat when reaching his landmark, while Somerset tweeted that a fan in the retirement flats at deep midwicket had told the umpires to "get on with it" during a rain delay at Taunton.
England's white-ball players are set to return to county action this week, with Yorkshire confirming that Jonny Bairstow will take the gloves in their next two games as he looks to push his case for a Test recall.
There have been some concerns about bowlers' fitness to play red-ball cricket after focusing on limited-overs skills for several weeks, with Warwickshire asking Henry Brookes to play for his club Knowle and Dorridge last weekend after his return from the Ageas Bowl bubble. Steven Finn, meanwhile, was deemed surplus to requirements for Middlesex's first game of the season, instead taking 1 for 31 from his seven overs for Hampstead.