Hodge a striking hero at the last

Twenty20: Surrey's proud unbeaten run rudely interrupted by the unfancied men from the Midlands
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Yesterday Birmingham, tomorrow the world. Who knows what lies in store for Twenty20 now that it is near the top of that interminable list of contemporary entertainments vying to be the new rock 'n' roll. The difference is that given its proclivity for having music playing before, during, between and after innings Twenty20 actually is rock 'n' roll.

Before a capacity crowd that remained uproarious for most of the day whether cricketers or Liberty X were appearing, Surrey lost their unbeaten record in the competition and their title to unfancied Leicestershire. An innings of controlled panache by the Australian, Brad Hodge, who made 77 from 53 balls and a whirling 30 in 16 from Jeremy Snape took Leicestershire to victory. Sixteen runs off the penultimate over from Adam Hollioake, the master of death bowling, all but sealed their victory, which came when Snape drilled the first ball of the last over of this year's Twenty20 wide of midwicket and went on a jig of delight which was as uncontrolled as his batting had been calm.

If the reaction of the crowd gambolling in the heat here yesterday (with rather too many clothes off in the case of a lot of males of the type who will soon come under the scrutiny of the government's obesity police) was a yardstick, Twenty20 should take all before it, charging into the affections of a new breed of cricket lovers.

There is a mild suspicion that the quality may not be up to much and one or two players have already been privately disparaging about it. Well, tell that to the marines and the 286,000 spectators who have turned up for this year's competition.

Tell it to the finalists too. Surrey and Leicester were there on Finals Day last 13 year, too, which suggests that they must be practising and plotting something specifically designed for the shortest of the short games. Surrey could claim to be the Twenty20 masters, having won 13 out of 13 games when they rolled up at the ground yesterday.

Of course, it is different, even strange cricket (the mascot race in the middle in which a stewards' inquiry saw Surrey's Roary Lion being disqualified and Lancashire's Lanky Giraffe taking the prize saw to that). That does not make it automatically bad cricket. Surrey made 168 for 6 in the final having won the toss as they desired. Batting first was how they had won every previous game in the competition this summer.

They had almost messed matters up in their morning semi-final against Lancashire by being all out for 134. They kept calm ­ as much their trademark as bowling straight ­ and sneaked home by one run that Lancashire failed to make off the final ball of a nerve-shredding contest.

But though their total in the final was an improvement it was not as many as they might have wished. They were 89 for 1 after 10 overs and must have had the comfort zone of 200-plus in mind.

Alistair Brown's dismissal for 64 from 41 balls rather halted their momentum, if that judgement can be made about a team going along at eight an over. Brown had been dropped on 48, which thus rather eased the pain of the culprit, Ottis Gibson. It could have been much worse.

Leicester began their assault on the target with a frenetic display. Their aim was clearly to make severe inroads before Surrey's miserly merchants, embodied by Hollioake, entered the fray. Leicester, the least fancied of the four teams on the day, had cruised past Glamorgan in the semi-final, led by their captain Darren Maddy's rapid 74. For a diffident, nervous type of character, Maddy sure hits a cricket ball hard.

He and Hodge gave their team a cracking start in the final. When Maddy was out in the sixth over they were already on 62. Hodge played the leading role this time and his fifty came from only 25 balls.

The real trick about Twenty20 is that it is not new at all. It is exactly the sort of cricket that most people who play the game have always played on midweek summer evenings. They can identify with it. One wonder, therefore, is that it took so long to think of. Another is that the counties whom it was supposed to save in a last desperate gamble ­ and appears to have succeeded admirably in so doing ­ voted for it by only 11 votes to seven.

From that dodgy start the counties and the players, spurred on by large crowds eager for big hitting, have embraced it. For the first time in two generations county grounds have been full.

In their understandable urge to expand the game the authorities should be careful to remember where it started. If it has not exactly saved county cricket it has helped a large section of the public either to learn of or to remember its existence.