Exit Smith on a Sabre-rattling note for Somerset

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The Independent Online

On the Twenty20 finals day cricket embraces popular culture, in the hope that popular culture will return the favour. There were 20,110 spectators here to give it a try, and most of them tolerated three rain delays to enjoy the appeal of the unexpected as underdogs Somerset easily beat the favourites Lancashire by seven wickets. Whether it becomes popular enough to infiltrate the culture remains to be seen.

There was an heroic quality about Somerset's victory. The Sabres maximised the talents of an ageing bowling attack, with Richard Johnson taking 3 for 26 and Andrew Caddick 2 for 21 as Lancashire's formidable top order imploded in the final. After scoring 217 for 4 in the semi-final against Surrey, they managed only 114 for 8 in the reduced 16-over innings in the final.

Fred Flintoff, the closest thing to a cricketing celebrity in our popular culture, was able to power Lancashire into the final with a bang, but he went out with a bit of a whimper. Against Surrey, he smote three sixes and four fours to get to 48 in 28 balls. He faced only three balls against Somerset before he skied Caddick to mid-wicket, out for three. Celebrity deflated by experience.

But how Flintoff tried. He bowled like a demon in the final: four overs, 33 runs, two wickets, but he could not dismiss Graeme Smith, who hit his last ball for six. The captain of Somerset and South Africa had also brought up his 50 with a six, and was 64 not out when the winning run was scored with 11 balls to spare.

His efforts were enough to earn him the man of the match award in his last game for Somerset, at least for this season. He got the support that he needed from Matthew Wood, who helped to break the resistance with four successive fours off Glen Chapple.

Like it or not - and a lot more people do than don't - Twenty20 cricket is a phenomenon. Higher average attendances in more games this summer have confirmed its popularity over every other form of the game, except Test cricket.

This cricket is far removed as it can be from the Victorian game organised over three days, by and for a leisured class. This is cricket for busy people and their children, plus Sky TV, whose commentators are encouraged to ignore the golden rule of cricket commentary about saying no more than necessary.

The only facet of this game that the Victorians might recognise is the role of the poor bowlers, whose principal task is to feed the appetite of the batsmen, for whom the game is organised. Lancashire scored 21 fours and seven sixes in a total of 217 for 4 in the semi-final. Surrey's 195 for 7 included 124 runs in boundaries and eight sixes. But generalisation is fraught with embarrassment. Somerset's bowlers were able to take advantage of failing light in the final to provoke overconfident shots.

Mal Loye was caught on the boundary off the sixth ball of the first over, having been dropped in the same spot off the second. Dominic Cork edged to second slip, Glen Chapple edged the ball on to pad and wicket.

Mark Chilton played inside Ian Blackwell's spin. Only Andrew Symonds, who was run out by a direct hit from Wesley Durston, and Stuart Law, who sacrificed his wicket off the last ball of the innings, could provide a satisfactory excuse.

The finals day is designed to resemble a fun fair. Noise is constant. During the interval between semi-finals, mascots from a dozen counties race across ridiculous obstacles. (For the record Carmen Bear of Warwickshire was an easy winner.) Later on, a girl group named Girls Aloud protected their voices against the inclement weather by miming their act, so it was said.

The crowd's interest survived the defeat of the home team by 22 runs. Leicestershire, who usually outperform themselves in this form of the game, seemed to have done enough when Somerset were out for 157 for 8. But only a six off the last ball by Paul Nixon made the game look as close as the four-run margin suggests.

The start of the final was delayed by 55 minutes, and did not finish until 10.15pm. The fact is that they had already seen a decent day's cricket after the semis. Finals day had its exhilarating moments, but it is surely too long. Why not spread it over a weekend?

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