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Saturday July 26 2008

Spent the second half of the day at Michael J’s watching the Twenty20 cricket.  Am now exhausted, mostly because I left my camera there and had to go back to get it, on account of wanting to have it with me tomorrow, for more socialising.

But the cricket was terrific. There’s no need for me to tell you what happened.  If you care about that, then go (e.g.) here, which is a description of the final, and where there are links to descriptions of the two semi-finals.  Rather will I offer a few general observations.

First, TV is often accused of stopping us all from socialising as much as we might.  People often deny this, out of duty, but for many, including me, it’s true.  I am sure I would have socialised more in my life if TV had not been invented.  But, on this occasion, TV obliged me to socialise.  Michael J has Sky Sport.  I don’t.  I wanted to watch the Twenty20 on the TV.  Ergo I socialised with Michael.  Which was very nice, of course it was.  But this would have been less likely to have happened had Sky TV not had the rights to this cricket and I had been able to watch it, say, on regular TV.  By the same token, pay TV causes more people to assemble in pubs than might otherwise.  Clearly the pub owners think this, or they’d not make such a point of having TVs scattered about in their premises.  I don’t care for pubs myself, but I quite often visit them despite that, to catch up with some sporting event or another.

The cricket itself, what I saw of it, was superb.  When I got to Michael’s, the first game had been and gone, and the second was half over, at which point Durham had made a wholly insufficient 138-6.  I had followed the first semi on the radio, but I only started watching when Middlesex started their sprint to victory against Durham.  Durham never got started, but Essex, Kent and Middlesex all did things to remember with pleasure, especially Middlesex of course, what with them winning both their games.

The thing about Twenty20, when it works, is how much every ball matters, the way only certain balls seem to matter in the longer versions of the game.  When Kent were chasing their target against Middlesex in the final, a couple of dot balls would have Michael and me reckoning that Middlesex were now probably favourites, but that it would change if one of the Kent guys were to hit a couple of sixes.  At which point a Kent guy did hit a couple of sixes and the advantage would lurch in the opposite direction.  We lost count of the number of times the advantage switched from Middlesex to Kent, and then back again, in the final.  In the end, the result was in doubt until the very last ball of the tournament.  Superb.

Closely related to what a great day’s entertainment this was for everyone, not just at the ground in Southampton but for all those, like me and Michael, watching on TV, is the fact that cricket is now awash with money.  Finally, cricket has found a way of being played that can rival football, and rugger and tennis and golf and motor racing, in fact pretty much any other sport you can think of.  Instead of it requiring a minimum of a whole day, and often day after day of devotion, much of it very tedious, and what is worse, devotion that quite often ends in no result, or in a result that wipes out whole days of potential entertainment by coming far too soon – instead of all that, it can now offer games that are won and lost in the space of about two and a half hours.  I mean, what other form of entertainment arranges an event that goes from Wednesday to Saturday, say, but then quite often finishes on the Friday afternoon, leaving the whole of Saturday completely blank?  Ludicrous.  Cricket has now pretty much got all this sorted.  Traditionalists may grouse, but the money is talking, loud and clear.  So much so that test match cricket is seriously threatened by the arrival of a new generation of cricketers who shamelessly specialise in limited overs cricket, the more limited the better.  Well, why not?

My other big recollection of the day was how very global was the pool of players that the counties now choose from.  The two best innings of the day was played by English players, Owais Shah and Robert Key.  But crucial contributions were also make by the Pakistanis Azhar Mahmood and Yasir Arafat (really), the Kent opening bowlers, by the Indian Murali Kartick, the Middlesex spinner, by South African attacking batters Tyron Henderson of Middlesex and Justin Kemp of Kent, to say nothing of Irishman Joyce and Welshman Morgan, both of Middlesex.  The final and decisive over of the tournament was fought out between two South Africans, Henderson and Kemp, with Henderson just prevailing.  Neither man seemed indifferent to the result, merely because playing for a foreign cricket team.  Again, many traditionalists grumble.  But I see nothing wrong with English county cricket becoming a showcase for many of the best players, not just in England or Britain, but in the world.  That the finalists and the winners of today’s proceedings will go on to participate in other even more glamourous Twenty20 cricket-fests in India and the West Indies only adds to the fun.  And to the huge tidal waves of money that will saturate the lucky players.

Apart from the entire Durham team, the other three big disappointments on the day were Napier of Essex and Malan of Middlesex, and Chanderpaul of Durham.  Napier, after all his heroics in earlier rounds, faced just five balls before being brilliantly caught by Robert Key, the Kent captain.  Malan didn’t bat at all against Durham, and only featured briefly at the end in the Middlesex innings against Kent, Henderson and Shah having made all the running in that.  Chanderpaul did worse than that.  He crawled to 48 at a mere run per ball, and was more responsible than anyone else for Durham doing so seriously badly.  I was travelling during his innings, but it seems to have been the kind of performance where his opponents would prefer him not to get out, because he was slowing his own side down so horribly.  Sad, because Chanderpaul has done wonders for the West Indies in recent years.  Today, he would have done better to get out first ball.

I loved being able to actually see lots of people who until today had only been names on scorecards.  Chanderpaul I have even seen batting in person, at Lords, against England.  And I already know what Robert Key looks like, from when he played for England a few years ago.  But Darren Stevens of Kent, for instance, who with Kemp nearly won it for Kent at the death, was new to me.  It turns out that, like Key, he’s another who-ate-the-pies? kind of a guy.  Shah, whose 75 in the final was the innings of the day, I know about, from his England exploits, but people like Udal and Kartick, the Kent spinners, Henderson, Denley of Kent, Kemp, Azhar Mahmood, Arafat, Joyce (who dropped a sitter that would have seen the back of Kemp and made things a lot easier for Middlesex) and several more, are now people I can picture when I next read about them, instead of just wondering.

Oh, and I also got to see the highlights of Australia beating the All Blacks at rugby.  In the interval between the second semi-final and the final.

In the first interval, between the first semi and the second, there was a race between all the mascots of all the English counties, or quite a lot of them, it wasn’t made clear which.  I listened to this on the radio before I journeyed out to Michael’s.  Kenny Kennington of Surrey won that.  This will probably prove to be the highlight of Surrey’s otherwise completely wretched season.  Hurrah!

Sorry once again about the lack of links in this.  It’s late and I’m knackered, and links are hard work.  The weather today has been almost Asiatic in its combination of heat and humidity, and as I say, I did a lot of travelling today, twice as much as I should have done because of that camera.  Apologies also for the inevitable miss-prints in this.  I reserve the right to correct the worst of the mistakes here in the hours and days ahead.  Also, links may be added.  But, I promise nothing.

CORRECTION: Eoin Morgan is, like Ed Joyce, Irish, not Welsh.