The Indian Premier League has most of the money. And next month's Champions League in South Africa will be loaded with big names. But neither of those tournaments can claim bragging rights over the T20 Cup when it comes to drama, ecstasy, agony and a touch of farce – not after an astonishing last-ball finish at the Rose Bowl.
It took 150 matches and several weeks to reduce this year's competition to two teams – far too many contests spread across too long a period, according to a good number of players and observers. All that was forgotten, though, when the winner of the £200,000 first prize was determined by one delivery in front of a capacity crowd.
Having been in a position where it looked as though they could not lose, Hampshire – having required just 11 runs from 12 balls with seven wickets in hand and two experienced batsmen, Neil McKenzie and Sean Ervine, well set – found themselves needing one run to pip Somerset by virtue of losing fewer wickets with an injured player, Dan Christian, at the crease and a runner, Jimmy Adams, coiled to sprint.
Before Zander de Bruyn could send down that last delivery, Rose Bowl groundsman Nigel Gray was summoned to paint crease lines parallel to the pitch in case the umpires needed to check whether Adams had made his ground. But it was not the runner who could have been dismissed, but Christian, who forgot his pulled hamstring amid all the tension and set off for the all important leg-bye.
Somerset could have run out the injured batsman at the wicketkeeper's end, but they briefly forgot the laws of the game and accepted their defeat. It was not until umpires Rob Bailey and Richard Illingworth informed them of the detail that reality dawned.
"It will probably haunt me for years," said the Somerset captain Marcus Trescothick. "I'm convinced I'm going to wake up in a minute, throw the ball at the stumps and run him out."
Trescothick being Trescothick, though, he said it all with a rueful smile on his face. And Somerset were still not crying "foul" yesterday when the dust had settled, director of cricket Brian Rose saying: "We take it on the chin and rock on."
In truth, Hampshire – just about everyone's outsiders going into finals day – deserved to be crowned T20 champions for the first time in their history. True, they were helped in the final by a horrible injury to Somerset all-rounder Kieron Pollard, who was unable to bowl after being hit in the face by a Dominic Cork bouncer. And the hosts almost messed it up with the bat after doing 99 per cent of the hard work. But until those crazy couple of overs at the end – when they lost two wickets and tried to run themselves out almost every ball – Hampshire were winning in some style.
They did it, of course, without going back on their decision to leave Kevin Pietersen in the domestic wilderness, following the England batsman's announcement that he will be looking for a new county at the end of this season. And they did it with a mixture of cagey old pros, led by 39-year-old captain Cork, and highly promising youngsters.
It was Cork – who bowled a terrific last over that went for just three runs when Somerset were hoping to finish their innings with a flourish – and the vastly experienced middle-order pair of McKenzie and Ervine who shone mostly brightly during the final. But it is three 19-year-olds – batsman James Vince, wicketkeeper Michael Bates and left-arm spinner Danny Briggs – plus fast bowler Chris Wood, 20, who should form the nucleus of a successful Hampshire side long after Cork and Co have hung up their boots.
"The young guys who have come into the side have transformed us," said Cork, who revealed that he has been offered a new 12-month contract to extend his stay at the Rose Bowl. "But I'm proud of all the guys.
"I've never seen a last over like that one. It was chaotic. I don't know what happened but we won. And how many people would have predicted that?"
English cricket is blessed with a fine crop of young talent right now. Perhaps the most promising of the lot ended up on the losing side at the Rose Bowl, but a great deal more will be heard of Jos Buttler, whose unbeaten 55 from 23 balls lit up Somerset's semi-final victory over Nottinghamshire.
The best development yesterday, though, concerned Pollard's state of health. He was taken to hospital with his right eye closed and badly swollen after Cork's bouncer had burst through the grill of his helmet but is not thought to have suffered any lasting damage.Reuse content