I love cricket. I could watch cricket all day. But now there’s an exciting form of the game which means you don’t have to.
Recently, I was lucky enough to spend the best part of the day at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground watching the LV County Championship encounter between Nottinghamshire and Lancashire. Sitting in the Pavilion the mood of the members shifted with each over. The game was tense, the balance of play switching between the home team and the visiting Red Roses. It was a typical early summer day and I’d estimate about 600 people were enjoying an excellent final day’s play.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I was fortunate enough to be back at Trent Bridge. This time, the atmosphere was very different – it was a blast. Just over three hours of blasting, in fact. Welcome to the NatWest T20 Blast, the new name for the sprint form of cricket played across 20 overs.
It’s about big hitting, fast-moving and exciting cricket set to a backdrop more reminiscent of a shindig than the traditional gentleman’s game.
Even cricket traditionalists must have felt a stirring of excitement from the already boisterous crowd. The noise was loud enough to wake Larwood and Voce – and I’m talking about the legendary cricketers rather than those frequenting the pub named after them, which is tucked into the corner of this world-famous cricket ground!
I must admit, I’ve had my doubts about this sprint format in previous years but this time I was ready for it. Trent Bridge, the members’ Pavilion included, had a buzz about it. Many of the usual suspects were there to watch the (Nottinghamshire) Outlaws take on the (Lancashire) Lightning and there was definitely a party mood in the air.
It may have been the presence of the TV cameras but the near 11,000 crowd and the sponsor’s giant inflatable pig hanging from the rafters of the New Stand were anticipating fireworks. They didn’t have to wait long, with the first flashes and bangs greeting the Outlaws and the Lightning as they descended the Pavilion steps. Music, contemporary and loud, combined with the gunpowder-thick air, accompanied more riotous than usual cheering. Outlaw flags interspersed with giant purple foam hands waved about the heads of children and adults alike.
Under the lights, Alex Hales and Michael Lumb, both England internationals and T20 specialists, walked to the crease, wearing Outlaw gold and green. The hopes of the majority rested on their broad shoulders as they prepared to quell the Lightning. It started well but in the second over England Test bowler James Anderson had Hales caught. The crowd sighed. Outlaw hopes now shifted to the diminutive figure of Captain James Taylor. It wasn’t long before boundaries were being struck, each being greeted by thunderous music and choreographed flames.
The Outlaw innings had it all. Plenty of boundaries interspersed with a liberal dose of sixes clearing the ropes. One such massive hit landed half way up the stand into the safe hands of a grateful spectator (rather him than me).
Outlaw Rikki Wessel probably would have preferred not to have been run out but at least his partner-in-crime, local hero Samit Patel, went on to score 56, take a couple of wickets and earn Man of the Match. With 20 overs completed the Outlaws reached 182 for the loss of five wickets – a very respectable total.
With the artificial light now illuminating the wicket, the Outlaws waited respectfully for the Lightning batsman to take to the field. These openers were ready to face former England star bowler Ajmal Shahzad from one end and new England hopeful Harry Gurney from the other. The momentum moved to Lightening until Hales and wicket keeper Chris Read worked in perfect unison to run out Lightning’s Tom Smith. Sighs became cheers, fielding practice was paying off.
The huge scoreboard at Trent Bridge provides live details including ‘current run rate’ and ‘run rate required’ and a quick glance showed the game moving away from the visitors as the Outlaw bowlers were regularly taking wickets.
Midway through the penultimate over, Gurney stormed in and removed the stumps of England stalwart James Anderson. Trent Bridge, already anticipating the outcome, roared its appreciation. The task was complete, the Lightning were all out for 149, 33 runs short. The Outlaws were victorious.
As the evening drew to a close, youngsters gathered on the outfield collecting autographs from their Outlaw heroes while greying former England captains shared their wisdom to the wider TV audience. The party slowly moved to other premises, the summer evening still young.