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Tim Wigmore's Favourite Moment
In the Friends Life t20 build-up was this April Fool from the ECB.
The original and still the best?
Cricket’s first domestic Twenty20 competition has increasingly felt out-muscled by the IPL, with top overseas stars conspicuous by their absence and purists lambasting it for its impact on a county schedule that causes half the County Championship to be played by the start of June. But strip beneath the negativity and the competition – having ditched the bloated format of last season – retains a capacity to thrill.
While headlines about overseas players have focused on the withdrawals of men like Lasith Malinga and Chris Gayle, focus instead on the ones who will be around to entertain. This will probably be the final chance for English crowds to watch the beguiling qualities of Muttiah Muralitharan; Glamorgan have the IPL run-machine Shaun Marsh; Durham have Herschelle Gibbs’s clean-striking.
Then there is Somerset, who may have been denied Gayle but they have two explosive South Africans in Albie Morkel and Richard Levi – scorer of the fastest international T20 century. Perhaps best of all is Shahid Afridi, whose mix of kamikaze batting and 75mph leg-spin will captivate Hampshire fans.
Ultimately, there are few better ways to be entertained on a summer’s evening than with a few beers and more than a few sixes. ESPNcricinfo will be running a daily blog reviewing and previewing the competition’s matches and main talking points. And the rest is down to you – the fans. Let us know what you think. Help to bring this blog alive. Get involved in the usual ways - below the line in the comments and on Twitter, with the usual hashtag #countycricket.
Forget the format – complain about the scheduling
It seems impossible to write about domestic T20 without criticising the format. But actually the 2012 vintage is hard to decry: with each side playing ten games in the group stages, the right balance between the quantity and meaning of each game is close to being achieved.
The nature of the previous 16-game, group stage format meant that there was an imbalance such that a side could win 16 out of 17 games but be knocked out in the quarterfinals, or win 11 out of 19 games and win the tournament. A shorter group stage mitigates such inequities.
But the tournament’s scheduling still rankles. The issue is not the timing of the group stages from mid-June to mid-July, but rather momentum-killing gaps in the schedule thereafter. After the group stages finish, there is a needless 16-day break, when a week would give counties ample time to market the quarterfinals. Worst of all, finals day is not until August 25 – by which time, sides have lost their T20 cohesiveness and any overseas stars will most likely no longer be available. Worst of all the football season has started again and Twenty20’s whole raison d'être will have been lost.
A Canterbury Tale
Kent’s decline in recent years, culminating in them finishing second-bottom in Division Two of the championship in 2011, has been alarming. But, unobtrusively, they have been making steady progress so far this season.
Perhaps because they are in the South Division – the more competitive – few have considered their chances this year. Yet Kent are abundant with T20 know-how. Think of Rob Key, James Tredwell and Darren Stevens – the latter unfortunate that his finishing prowess has never been called upon by England.
But it is Azhar Mahmood and Matt Coles, two players at the opposite ends of their careers, who give Kent hope of performing a Canterbury Tale to reinvigorate the club, beginning with Tuesday's game against Sussex. Mahmood’s six-hitting prowess and canny death bowling remains as valuable, at 37, as when he was instrumental in Surrey’s t20 victory in 2003.
Coles is 15 years younger but his lively bowling and robust batting has already earned him an England Lions call-up. If he can acquire Mahmood’s guile, the two could prove amongst the most effective bowling pairs around.
England’s real Twenty20 specialist
Which Englishman scored the most runs in the 2012 IPL? If this sounds like a trick question amid all the KP talk, that’s because it is.
Owais Shah is the closest England has to an adequate tT0 replacement for Pietersen. Yes, we’ve all heard the jokes about the Shah of I Ran but the fact that he scored 340 IPL runs this season and Eoin Morgan wasn’t selected at all rather suggests that England’s selectors are missing something.
Since England ditched him in 2009, Shah has taken his considerable T20 talents around the globe: he has played over 150 games for ten different sides, and only four men have scored more runs. He has become England’s first genuine T20 specialist.
Over the winter he averaged 44 playing in domestic competitions in Australia, India and South Africa, as well as the Champions League. Shah’s sixes, with his bat speed and hand-eye coordination enabling him to deposit length balls over long on, were one of the sights of the IPL.
If he can perform similarly for Essex, starting at The Oval on June 13, we may discover if success in FLt20 can bring about unstoppable momentum. If so, Shah could yet find himself in Sri Lanka come September.
The specialist 12th man
You might not know much about Matt Boyce but, in his own way, he could have as much of an effect as Jean-Marc Bosman on football or Marios Kolpak on county cricket.
Last season, Boyce became the first specialist T20 fielder. A batsman, he was deemed too slow scoring and was hidden at number ten. But his outfielding was so good that he was still picked by Leicestershire nine times – one more than the total number of runs he scored.
Perhaps they needn’t have bothered. In the T20 final Boyce wasn’t selected, but he still took four excellent catches as a substitute on the mid-wicket boundary. Unless the issue of substitutes in cricket is addressed, we might get a lot more Boyces. Any county with an eye for a comparative advantage should – perfectly legally - sign a couple of baseball outfielders as perennial 12th and 13th men.
Quote of the Day
“It’s not a huge shift for 20-over cricket and unlike other counties who bring in players specifically for T20 we will be operating with largely the same group." Richard Dawson, Gloucestershire coach
Trending: The White Stuff
Northants may have acquired very wisely in Cameron White. White’s stock has fallen rapidly over the past 18 months – he has lost his one-day international place, and been sacked as captain, then been dropped altogether, from Australia’s T20 side. But he was reinvigorated by the IPL, hitting almost 500 runs at a strike-rate in excess of 150. The Wantage Road boundaries should be no match for his belligerence.
Jun 12, 2012 South Division: Kent v Sussex, Canterbury, 19.00 North Division: Leics v Notts, Grace Road, 17.40
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