County cricket fans deserve better than the T20 Blast’s scattered start

Ball one: Blast off – somewhere, soonish

Thursday at 6.15pm and 6.30pm; Friday at 6.30pm (five), 7pm (two) and 7.05pm; Saturday at 4.30pm; Sunday at 2.30pm (three), 3.00pm and 3.30pm (two).

That is, as I am sure you know, the smörgåsbord of T20 Blast matches scheduled over the next seven days (after three days without a match). When Twenty20 was launched 21 years ago, it promised and delivered appointment events. It really was like a carnival coming to town. Now you need an appointments secretary just to keep track of the when and the where.

Ball two: Same old for same old Samit

One man who does not need to be told about that rocking first season of Twenty20 is Samit Patel. He knows, because he was there.

Incredibly, he is still playing, somewhat jarringly, at Derbyshire, where he probably is wearing three sweaters. Even more incredibly, he was the junior in a partnership of 102 in less than 10 overs that turned the match against Leicestershire, Patel’s 39 years topped by Wayne Madsen’s 40.

There were 32 singles in that stand. I hope one of the physios was keeping a keen eye on the real-time data transmitted back to the boundary.

Of the 21 Blast matches played so far, only five or so have produced genuinely close finishes, continuing a worrying trend from last season. Big hits and splattered stumps provide the spectacle on which the format thrives, but the thrills are in that last-over denouement when three hours of effort is distilled into six balls.

Is there more that can be done to promote the unique selling point of those six balls of excruciating tension and sweaty palms on the field and in the crowd? Why not allow the batting captain to call his powerplay overs in-play, in batches of two, when he sees fit? Why not allow a fielding captain to call upon any bowler to deliver the 20th over, even if they have four already against their name? Why not allow batters to be retired and return later if not out to boost a flagging run rate?

T20 already has plenty of artifice, so would a little more make a difference? I would not advocate substituting players in and out – the game should always be 11 v 11 – but evolution should not be feared.

Sean Abbott is bowled during Surrey’s match against Somerset. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Ball four: silent taunting in Taunton

It would be too much of a case of pearl-clutching were I to claim that the otherwise decent watch of Somerset v Essex from Taunton was spoiled by the spectators, but it did underline a growing trend in T20 cricket around the world. The crowd were only watching one side.

There’s no more partisan a house than Somerset’s, and that is a good thing for the players and the atmosphere, but surely it is a long evening to sit in silence with faces like Mount Rushmore when treated to tremendous batting, bowling and fielding that just happens to be from the side wearing a different kit?

Ball Five: batter of the week

That Jamie Smith has propelled Surrey to the top of the South Group with three straight wins is probably enough to gain the accolade, but it is his 17 sixes that seals the deal, almost three times as many as dear old Ravi Bopara in second place. Add his 11 in the County Championship and it is clear that “something is going on”.

Sixes are only one element of a batter’s game (though increasingly important in all formats) but it reveals something indefinable – the alchemy of balance, timing and confidence required to keep hitting the ball that hard that often. Rather like Father Jack, who could discern the vintage of a wine from the clank of one bottle on another, one can hear a unique tone when Smith hits the ball. It is a rare gift and one that England will surely have to use more, his two ODI caps to date a start and not a finish to his international career.

Ball six: bowler(s) of the week

Defending 149 is no easy matter, regardless of opposition or conditions; seeing 54 for none on the tins with a couple of balls still left in the powerplay makes the job all but impossible.

So props to Birmingham’s spinners Danny Briggs, Jake Lintott and Dan Mousely who, from that point, combined for 9.4–0–55–7. That takes skill, nerve and also strong support from the captain, Alex Davies. Nevertheless Nottinghamshire will view a collapse that saw all 10 wickets tumble for just 73 as unacceptable, even if the opposition had numbered Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Hedley Verity among their ranks.

The Guardian

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