Henry Blofeld: Twenty20 vision must open eyes to bright county future

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In spite of those two boring three-day Test finishes against Zimbabwe, English cricket suddenly has quite a buzz to it. The new Twenty/20 competition has not just created its own momentum but has communicated itself to the game in a quite remarkable fashion. It is a long time since cricket has been talked about as it is now. Posh and Becks, watch out!

It may not be long before villages and clubs up and down the country start to play their own form of the Twenty20. The only people who might complain about that are the local pub keepers. Unless they can take their wares to the ground, they may suffer a serious loss of trade on these exciting evenings.

The England side has just finished a three-match limited-over competition against Pakistan. This has also achieved a surprising momentum. While England are using more new and relatively untried players than they have for a long time, Pakistan have turned up with a new side, having pruned drastically since their failure in the World Cup. Almost all the hardy annuals of the last decade have now gone. New faces, new attitudes and, above all, a new enthusiasm have taken the place of the old, entrenched cynicism that has done their cricket such damage for so many years.

Both sides have made similar mistakes. In the first match at Old Trafford, it was England's inexperienced middle-order batting which let them down. In the second game at the Oval, the Pakistani bowlers showed their inexperience. They allowed themselves to be panicked by Marcus Trescothick's early onslaught after a fine bowling display had first undone their own batsmen.

The most agreeable impression one has been left with is the pace at which the players are getting on with the game. Fashions change in cricket, as in every other facet of life. The Twenty20 may just have done for the English game exactly what the advent of Adam Gilchrist's batting, as an opener in one-day cricket and at No 7 in Test cricket, has done for the Australian game and, to some extent, cricket everywhere. Test runs are being scored so much faster.

These games against Pakistan have produced big crowds and vibrant cricket. The amount of Pakistani support in England would probably have guaranteed the crowds in any event, and the weather has been a most important ally too. For all that, the precedent is there for all to see. Even the most cynical of the old farts that English county grounds have a habit of producing, can hardly fail to have been impressed by the action of the past two weeks.

One's next hope is that the new attitudes shown by the players will also soon be on view in the county championship. The Gilchrist factor has already leapfrogged its way through to Test cricket, but the good old county championship still has one foot in a far from dishonourable but now hopelessly outdated past.

If players can take to the ground at the start of each day with the sort of bounce and enthusiasm we are watching at the moment, this competition will be on its way forward. They must try to make things happen in four-day cricket as they have in the Twenty20 game. Of course, this kind of tempo is infinitely harder to maintain for four days, but even so it must be much more fun than just going through the motions.

The county administrators will have had their eyes opened by what is going on every bit as much as the participants. They know that the likelihood is that the annual handout to the counties by the ECB will decrease as and when television income falls, so the more attractive their players can make the county game, the more the membership subscriptions, the gate receipts and local advertising will increase.

There is something infectious about cricket at the moment and, as every surfer worth his salt will know, the crest of a good wave must not be wasted.