To witness the Twenty20 Cup Final last night was to understand why it is taking over the world.
The combatants, Middlesex and Kent, supplied a thrilling game which possessed improvised skills and beautifully orthodox technique adapted for the modern world. It had twists and turns every couple of overs and again supplied evidence that slow bowling counts. Had it been a book it would have been unputdownable.
Middlesex won by three runs as Kent narrowly failed to chase down the 188 they needed to win. Gripping stuff and nor was the glory of winning the end of it. Every player at the Rose Bowl yesterday presumably had on their minds hard cash: to be precise, the princely sum of £2.5m, the glittering prize on offer in the Champions League to be staged in the desert in the first week of October.
It meant that the main aspiration was not particularly winning the Twenty20 Cup, for which the cheque was £42,000 (though that would be jolly nice), but to qualify for the final. That would guarantee participation in the Champions League jackpot – always assuming the I's are dotted and the T's crossed on the deal.
The Middlesex total was the highest in any of the six finals but it seemed throughout most of the last over that Kent would pass it. They needed 16 to win at the start but gathered 10 from the first three balls. Jason Kemp, their powerful South African batsman, struck two, drilled a straight four and then managed to run four thanks to a bizarre overthrow from the boundary. Had this not been prevented from going over the rope at the other end of the ground by a despairing dive from Dirk Nannes it would have been six in all and Middlesex would probably have lost.
Kemp was confronted by his compatriot, Tyron Henderson, whose own thunderous batting had improbably propelled Middlesex to the final. It was Henderson who kept his nerve. He conceded two off the fourth ball, squeezed one past the bat for a dot ball, then bowled a full-length ball which Kemp could only drive straight back to him. "It's been a very interesting day to say the least," said the 33-year-old all-rounder.
Twenty20 had already arrived but the murmurings had grown recently that it had gone too far and was getting much too big for its boots. This was exactly the type of match that all its adherents must have craved. The winners will also play in Antigua in late October against the Stamford Twenty20 champions Trinidad & Tobago – with a chance of winning £150,000.
Middlesex were a revelation. They won the semi-final against the favourites, Durham, at the gallop. There were 26 balls to spare when Henderson hit the seventh six of a quite stunning innings of 59 from 21 balls.
In partnership with Owais Shah, he was at it again, though more briefly, in the final as Middlesex raced to a 187 for 6, though they might have been slightly disappointed not to have more.
Henderson, dropped on nine, struck another two sixes in his 44 before digging out a drive to mid-off. Unfortunately for Kent that unleashed Shah, among the sweetest strikers of a ball anywhere, and the three successive slog-sweeps for six off James Tredwell were a blistering statement of intent. There were two more in his innings of 75 spanning a mere 35 balls, which made nonsense of the presumption that the pitch might become slower as the day wore on.
Shah was resplendent, constantly hitting gaps, especially in front of the wicket on the leg side, and he was an obvious Man of the Match. Middlesex may well have to do without him in Antigua. He is likely to be there that week for England's winner-take-all match against West Indies where $20m is at stake and therefore will not be allowed to play in the club match four days earlier.
Had he stayed in, Middlesex would have cruised past the 200 mark. His dismissal in the 17th over meant that fresh eyes were at the crease. The final four overs brought 30 runs when they might have yielded 50.
Kent had been here before. They had chosen to bat second in the 2007 final when they beat Gloucester with three balls left. But then they were chasing 147, not 187. They were slightly let down by their slow bowler, the off spinner Tredwell, who was only entrusted with two overs as Shah mistreated him.
Yet slow bowling, at least in the middle of the innings, was the favoured option throughout the day. At least, it worked marvellously for Middlesex. Their veteran duo of off spinner Shaun Udal and slow left armer Murali Kartik offered almost no width and their variations of pace always induced doubt. "I expect the wife's probably spent most of it already," said Udal of his big payday. "We're on the way somewhere special and it'll be great fun, it'll be a great trip and we can't wait. We deserve it."
In the semi-finals they had yielded only 36 from eight consecutive overs and that effectively did for Durham. With that pair lying in wait, Kent knew they needed a flier. Robert Key and Joe Denly obliged. They had put on 58 in the semi-final against Essex and now sprang from the traps more rapidly.
By the ninth over they had positively romped to 89 and were largely playing authentic strokes. The pair bat extremely well together and both should be talked about as having genuine international prospects.
But the game was indeed transformed by the slow men. Key feathered a catch behind off Kartik having made 52 from 30 balls, and Denly got underneath one from Udal which came down into Billy Godleman's arms inside the mid-wicket boundary.
There is still some uncertainty about the proposed expedition to the Middle East but the England and Wales Cricket Board claim to have secured a deal worth $750 million over 10 years.
There are some small differences to be sorted out with India, such as the competition regulations and who can and cannot play. But the money is so considerable that compromise will be reached. The ECB, having been so bullish throughout, would hardly dare to do otherwise.
In truth, it is hard to envisage either of the English participants claiming the Abu Dhabi jackpot. Middlesex were probably the most surprising of the four qualifiers. Henderson was a hitter having his day, and though they have obvious stars, they did not appear to possess the depth and all-round qualities of the other sides. And yet, the right teams qualified on the day and they produced a breathtaking contest which only ensured that Twenty20 made more inroads into other forms of the game.Reuse content