Ramprakash plays the Lions' king

Surrey's technician leads the carnage as party-time comes to The Oval. Stephen Fay reports
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The Independent Online

The good news was lit up in red outside the Hobbs Gate at The Oval. "Sold Out" it said. That meant there would be a crowd of 6,000 at the building site in Kennington for the Surrey Lions' Twenty20 game against the Hampshire Hawks, and they got what they came for. Mark Ramprakash's 50 came up with the fifth six of his innings. Mark Butcher's 50 was rather more circumspect, taking 36 balls compared to Ramps' 32, and then Adam Hollioake lit into the Hampshire attack, falling only six short of his own 50.

Surrey reached 198 ­ well above the par score of 150 ­ because they scored 71 in the last five overs of the innings. The jewel in this crown was the controlled hitting of Ramprakash, demonstrating a simple truth about the 20-over slog: the better the technique, the harder the hitting.

The slaughter of the innocents began later in the day than the textbook suggests it should in Twenty20 cricket. The crowd in the public stands sat back expecting a heroic attack from Ali Brown, but he was out for three in the third over. Scott Newman was bowled in the first over having scored only four.

Greg Blewett, the elegant Aussie who has flown over to London to play for three weeks, should have reassured The Oval's loyalists, but he blew it ­ again. On his debut on Friday evening he was out for a single. He improved that score fourfold yesterday before getting bowled by James Bruce, an Old Etonian whose figures of 3 for 21 in four overs explain Surrey's somewhat hesitant start.

But the crowd was well pleased, and so would the Surrey management be. There were plenty of children and some babies. There were pints in the fists of young men but the atmosphere was relatively demure. Another sell-out crowd is expected next Friday to watch the Lions, who won the competition in its first year and made a convincing start this season with a 10-run win against Sussex at Hove on Friday night. That was the first Twenty20 game for Steve Rixon, Surrey's new Australian coach, but he has already identified the secret of the format. "The biggest key to success is the enjoyment factor. Go and have a good time and the performance will look after itself," he says.

A wicket was cut close to the boundary, promising an unusually high quota of sixes, more surely than the five Surrey managed in scoring 221 on Friday, which equals the record score so far.

Hampshire had something to prove to themselves before anyone else. Out for 95 at Chelmsford on Friday, their fifth straight defeat in Twenty20 cricket.

The England and Wales Cricket Board are cocky enough about another success to have released ticket sales figures: before the tournament began, 110,000 tickets had been sold for 45 group matches. That includes 15,000 tickets for Middlesex v Surrey at Lord's on 15 July, beating the previous record of 14,862 at Old Trafford last year for Lancashire v Yorkshire.

Last summer's sun, which gave the first year of Twenty20 cricket such a great send-off, is reflected in the marketing ploys introduced this year. Essex, Glamorgan, Hampshire and Worcestershire are creating beaches on the boundary, the latter featuring "Sand, two hot tubs with waitress service, palm trees and fairy lights, fridge with alcopops/Bud, cocktail beach bar, drinks serviced in coconuts with umbrellas and straws, and an npower lifeguard." It is easy to make fun when counties try to compete with the fun fair, but they seem to have pulled it off. Perhaps it is because of Twenty20's limited duration. Rixon prefers it to the protracted jollity of one-day cricket in Australia.

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