Twenty20 is here and happening and at first glance undoubtedly exciting. So far so good for the marketing heads at the ECB who believed thrills and spills were the best way to attract a young audience, but the real key to this proving more than a snappy experiment is the quality of the game. The punters - 11,000 at The Oval on Friday night, 8,000 at the Rose Bowl and 3,000 at Imber Court yesterday, are certainly getting that.
Surrey, with Ian Ward, started off with some excellent driving, Graham Thorpe proved in the middle overs that placement, hard running and skilful batsmanship are desired qualities in all forms of the game and at the end Azhar Mahmood sent the crowd crazy with superb ball striking and three sixes, two of which were enormous. Importantly, proper cricket shots played aggressively are outscoring slogging.
The target of 183 was too much for Essex, although close finishes, the coveted finale of the marketing gurus, will be frequent. What will not change is the crowd's hunger for the spectacular.
Full stretch dives, unbelievable one-handed catches and huge hits over the boundary will get them cheering and most importantly, watching, but what they love is the frenetic pace of the game. It is quick and explosive or as Ward described it: "The final-over drama of a one-day match but for the whole 40 overs."
"Already we are discussing new ways of scoring and the first thing I have found is that there are going to be new fielding positions," he added.
"I am out sweeping on the deep square boundary but I feel that the ball won't get smacked past me there for four whereas it will at cow corner. So fine leg is moving squarer where he can keep the clips and nudges to a single and I'm moving round to cut off the hoicked boundary."
New ideas are being implemented, innovation is the buzzword and standard one-day matches are appearing a little staid. "In the middle of the innings they can be," agreed Ward, "but what we are thinking for Twenty20 is that good cricket is still going to win, but fielding has to be brilliant. Each ball should involve at least seven fielders, from the bloke who stops the ball, to the boundary fielders and the ring of men backing up. One snatched single or overthrow could cost a match so we are learning to perform under pressure, honing skills and instincts that should benefit us in all cricket. And with youth a must for the athleticism, it should teach younger players how to cope with close match situations."
It sounds like a chaotic recipe for pandemonium but what it does do is make cricket more dynamic. "We will learn how to play this," warned Ward "and probably quite quickly, so in future why not have hitting zones on the boundary that if hit award free hits at the end of an innings."
"Why not a Twenty20 World Cup?" he continued. "Under lights in Australia, the crowds will love it."
Why not indeed? After all, sport is showbusiness.
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