June 11, 2012

Friends Life t20, Tuesday June 12 2012

Tim Wigmore

Tim Wigmore's Favourite Moment

In the Friends Life t20 build-up was this April Fool from the ECB.

Flooding at Tunbridge Wells ended a disastrous centenary Festival, Tunbridge Wells, June 11, 2012
Flooding has ended a rain-wrecked Tunbridge Wells centenary festival and forced the switching of Kent's FLt20 opener against Sussex on Tuesday to Canterbury  © Kent County Cricket Club
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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

Azhar Mahmood scored 36 off 38 balls, Kings XI Punjab v Delhi Daredevils, IPL, Dharamsala, May 19, 2012
Azhar Mahmood could be the man, with all his experience, including in this season's IPL, to bring T20 success back to Kent  © AFP
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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.

Fixtures

Jun 12, 2012 South Division: Kent v Sussex, Canterbury, 19.00 North Division: Leics v Notts, Grace Road, 17.40

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Posted by Jake on (June 13, 2012, 12:27 GMT)

As a Somerset fan I don't think there's any question that we have the best batting line up when all available and fit: Trescothick, Levi, Kieswetter, Trego, Buttler, O'Brien, Hildreth and Morkel. The bowling is a bit of a concern; Thomas is excellent in T20 cricket but other than Dockrell / Morkel I can't see too much else, especially with Dibble being injured. I wouldn't be surprised if Waller and Dockrell played most of the games. Kirby is too expensive in T20, Gregory / Meschede are still a bit raw and we can't rely on Suppiah to replicate his world-record figures of 6/5 every game :)

It seems like the idea is just to simply post an unassailable first innings total or to back ourselves to chase any opposition total... with that batting lineup I can't blame them!

Posted by Ali on (June 12, 2012, 21:14 GMT)

Five home games seems far too few to me especially if the outgrounds get a few games. Surrey play 3 of their homes games in the space of four days - A bad spell of weather and 60% of home games are washed out.

Posted by Andrew McGlashan on (June 12, 2012, 15:37 GMT)

Looking forward to this year's tournament. I think the balance of matches this season is correct with ten apiece.

Posted by Andrew McGlashan on (June 12, 2012, 15:33 GMT)

Let's hope the weather clears up. There are plenty of exciting cricketers on show. I feel this year's tournament is the correct balance of matches.

Posted by Alex Winter on (June 12, 2012, 15:29 GMT)

Well that's what most of the counties would like AB, especially most of the smaller ones - they would like to sell season tickets like football and get them coming down regularly. And spreading it out would also mean the tournament is less susceptible to the weather.

But you need more games to do that and the big counties, your Warwickshire's and Surrey's, don't want more games because it's harder to sell out Edgbaston or The Oval more often than smaller grounds.

Bit of a quandary.

Posted by AB on (June 12, 2012, 14:46 GMT)

Looking forward to it - the standard is always so much higher than in that silly sham of a tournament that took place in April.

My only quibble is that could we please get rid of this ludicrous cramming of all the games into 6 weeks and play it on Friday evenings throughout the season? It would make so much more sense both from a players and spectators point of view.

Re the Matt Boyce fielding quibble: I really don't see the problem with allowing 2 sub fielders on the field with or without injuries. I know its not "traditional" but where is the harm in raising the overall quality of the game? Slippery slope argument doesn't wash.

Posted by Dave Morton on (June 12, 2012, 13:51 GMT)

Wake me up when it's all over.

Posted by Tim Wigmore on (June 12, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

Cheers Matt - I agree about Boyce. Until this is properly addressed its only getting worse, and sooner or later you will have counties signing people just to be specialist fielders.

Posted by Ray W on (June 12, 2012, 12:37 GMT)

Of course I know about Matt Boyce - he's flippin' awesome!

Posted by Matt on (June 12, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

It still irks me (yes, I am a Somerset fan) that proper attention is not given to Boyce's contribution to the T20 final last year. Yes, he fielded excellently, but I do not believe he should have been on the field.

If I recall correctly, he was being used as a substitute for Will Jefferson, who having scored a very useful 35 from 29 balls (top scorer) was then "injured". Quite handy how a 6'10 fielder can then disappear and be replaced by one of the country's best fielders.

What then happened when the last ball had been bowled and Leics had won? Oh that's right, a certain W.I. Jefferson was seen sprinting onto the field ahead of other staff to celebrate with the team.

Injured? Yep, I thought not. That, sirs, is certainly not cricket.

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