Flt20 must embrace own identity
It is what it is. This phrase, which has become ubiquitous in recent times, might be a useful point of reference for the Friends life t20. On its 10th birthday, the tournament has been having an identity crisis as it tries to find its place in both the English and world cricket calendars. But instead of concentrating on what it isn't - the IPL, or even the Big Bash League - it might be time to concentrate on what it is.
English T20 will never match the IPL; it doesn't have the clout, the money, the window, the players or the weather. Once India took to Twenty20, the rest of the world had no chance. There is no shame in that. The essence of cricket, more than most sports, is its diversity. There are many things English cricket will never do as well as India, and vice versa. The FLt20 is barely a cousin of the IPL, never mind a competitive sibling.
Friday's programme, effectively the opening night of this year's competition, was a triumph despite the generally dismal weather. Only four of the eight games were unaffected (three in the North division; it's grim down South) but thanks to the persistence of groundstaff, umpires, players and spectators, seven of the games produced results. There were 1,957 runs, 89 wickets, 60 sixes and some superb cricket.
Middlesex and Surrey stole victories on the road, the former despite Vernon Philander taking 3-1-8-4 on his Kent debut. For Surrey, Jade Dernbach (4-0-15-3) reminded us that, for richer and poorer, he is a unique talent. Nottinghamshire flexed their considerable muscle against Leicestershire, with Michael Lumb and David Hussey overseeing an intimidatingly comfortable chase of 184, and Lancashire held their nerve to beat Durham by nine runs. Glamorgan pulverised Worcestershire in a 14-over thrash, and Northamptonshire did the same to Gloucestershire in a match reduced to 12 overs.
This is turning into quite a season for Northants. Last year they won four matches in all competitions; this was their tenth victory in 2013. It was also their first T20 victory at Wantage Road since 2010. The man of the match was the left-arm spinner Graeme White, back at Northants on loan from Nottinghamshire, who took 4 for 14 from three overs. He caught the eye even before he'd bowled a ball by wearing three hairstyles in one: a Mad Men slickback, a Beatles bowl and a V-shaped step at the back. It was possibly the most striking haircut seen in English cricket since Kevin Pietersen's skunk rock summer of 2005.
Spectators waited almost two hours for the play to start, including a group of cheery, flag-waving children from the Kettering & Corby District Under-11s. This is the reality of domestic cricket in England and Wales. Sometimes it is going to be wet and miserable. Sometimes you are going to have to bowl one over for 17 in pouring rain with a soapy ball, as Gloucester's Alex Gidman did at Wantage Road. Sometimes it is going to be a bit naff.
Other sports embrace their Britishhness rather than trying to ape what goes on elsewhere. The Premier League does not try to copy Serie A or La Liga, Wimbledon has always stood apart from other tennis tournaments, while the Open Championship and the links courses in England and Scotland are not given beauty treatment to copy the manicured courses in America. They are what they are, and that's an essential part of the charm.
Using a pinnacle as a reference point is natural. But sometimes you have to know your limits. You could not have saxophone-playing elephants in England.
And if the Flt20 tries to be too like the IPL it will end up looking as ridiculous those ordinary folk who bought Ryan Gosling's iconic jacket from the film Drive. It should have its own British identity.
This is not to say the mid-match entertainment should be Basil Fawlty impersonators rather than dancing girls, or that fast-food vans should serve toad in the hole. T20 is intrinsically box office, and can never lose sight of its essential purpose, but for English cricket there may be a happier window between the inevitable bombast of T20 and the eccentricity and homespun charm that makes county cricket so endearing.
Rob Smyth is the author of The Spirit of Cricket - What Makes Cricket the Greatest Game on Earth