Paul Edwards experiences the good, the bad, and the grumpy on Twenty20 Finals Day at Edgbaston
My bags duly checked, I stroll into Edgbaston. The vast underpass beneath the stands makes the place seem like a football stadium and perhaps this is rather appropriate on a day when it will take barely a couple of hours playing time to decide the result of each match. Friends tell me that the architecture and the view remind them of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. A T-shirt in the Warwickshire souvenir shop has the words: "Let's get ready to Bumble!" printed on it. Well, quite. The Archduke of Accrington will be in his element this afternoon, at no time more so than during the Mascots' Race, when an improbably athletic felt mammal will be cheered by one of cricket's most engaging commentators.
The gates have been open for half an hour and plenty of spectators have already taken their places. The ground, however, is unlikely ever to be full. Lancashire and Leicestershire diehards will be in their seats early and then some supporters of the defeated team will probably make their disappointed way home at the end of the first semi-final; a few may opt to soak their sorrows in a sherbet or six. Others, having paid £60 a pop for their day's cricketainment, will stay and be joined by fans of the teams in the second semi-final. Nevertheless, by the time the final comes round, some supporters of two of the four teams will have left.
Warm-ups continue on the outfield. Colleagues wonder what the Lancashire players may be thinking. I suspect - and hope - their minds will be very tightly focused on the game they have to play against Leicestershire. However, I rather like the idea that some of the younger cricketers will spare a thought for the wet winter evenings when they have gone to net practices either at Old Trafford or at their local clubs; or the lifts their families and friends have given them to distant venues for important matches; or the times when they chose not to go out on the town because they had big games on the morrow. Days like today are what make such sacrifices worthwhile.
And what spoils days like today is rain. A heavy shower has already caused Lancashire's match with Leicestershire to be reduced to 18 overs-a-side and satellite pictures indicate that more bad weather is on its way.
"Well, it rained," were Glen Chapple's first words in response to the opening question of the post-match press conference. Pithy and unflustered as ever, the Lancashire skipper had focused on one of the key elements which had led to his side being knocked out of the 2011 Friends Life t20. "It's entertainment," he then pointed out, and yes, that was crucial too: in order to make sure the final started at 7p.m - and that other elements of the Finals Day "experience", such as the Mascots' Race were squeezed in - Lancashire's match had been further reduced to 11 overs-a side. Thanks to Gareth Cross's last ball six. that match ended in a tie (122 in 18 overs playing 79 in 11, thank you Messrs Duckworth and Lewis) which necessitated a one-over eliminator. My colleague Graham Hardcastle will have taken you through that.
I think it's wrong to view one-over cricket matches as a lottery, just as it's a bit daft to describe penalty shoot-outs in such terms; both mini-games are a test of certain skills in almost the most abbreviated form possible in cricket. What I feel is a shame is that a showpiece ran the risk of being seen by some as a bit of a shambles because it was thought wrong to use the reserve day set aside to complete the three matches as long as the semis could be squashed into ever briefer time slots. I don't think Lancashire were necessarily badly treated by the arrangements; they had chances to win their game and Will Jefferson batted very well to take Leicestershire home. I just think that reducing the overs in a match should be the last resort, not the first.
If you thought I was grumpy when I wrote the last entry, you were right. I was about as disgruntled as I have been on a cricket ground this wonderful summer. I felt that the cart was beng put before the horse. What cheered me up no end and rather restored my faith in things was the sight of Leicestershire's Paul Nixon diving miles to his right to catch Keiron Pollard off the bowling of Wayne White for just a single. By doing so, he struck a crucial blow for an unfancied county, who, a short time later, won their third Twenty20 title. Nixon is a couple of months short of his 41st birthday; his enthusiasm on Saturday evening was something to see and the standing ovations he got from the crowd each time he was dismissed was a reminder of cricket's ability to show off the best in people. Lancashire's cricketers, meanwhile, go to Trent Bridge on Monday. Lanky, on the other hand, needs new hooves and a bit of darning. How there wasn't a stewards enquiry into that Mascots' Race is beyond me.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
Article (c) Lancashire County Cricket Club