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ESPNcricinfo's countdown on the things that mattered in the latest round of matches in the NatWest T20 Blast
May 19, 2014
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After a weekend of pulsating cricket, it feels amiss to begin by talking about corruption. But, as much as the ECB would like the focus to be on the pitch, the pleas from Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell should not be ignored.
Both have urged the ECB to ban mobile phones from all dressing rooms for the duration of games. The message is that what needs to be banned at England level also needs to be banned for televised county games. The logic is inescapable. Under current rules - or lack thereof - "You could be on your phone all day if you want," as Bell said.
ECB always like to trumpet that its domestic competitions mimic the international game. In this context, the inertia on mobile phones, which are banned from dressing rooms for internationals looks like a blind spot. It also reeks of being "complacent", despite an ECB spokesman dismissing the very thought..
It remains possible to conclude that county cricket is probably relatively clean: only one of the so-called "dirty dozen" being investigated following Lou Vincent's claims is an English county player. But the success of this year's NatWest Blast is far too important for strange goings on to be tarnished by dark murmurings, however unfounded, of wrongdoing.
There is no excuse not to do everything possible to convince fans of the veracity of what they are seeing. As Bopara said, "if that's what is required to keep the game clean then let's do it." How about by, say, noon tomorrow?
Middlesex's double pain
If it's Friday night, it must be T20 night. The tournament's launch date was a qualified success, with crowds that were raucous rather than obnoxious, and evening sunshine aplenty. In the south at least, it could have been 2003 all over again. In the north, Durham especially, it appears there remains much convincing to be done.
By comparison, the rest of the weekend's action felt rather like 2012, when domestic cricket struggled to be heard above the cacophony of European Championship and Olympic mania. Lancashire struggled to flog tickets for Saturday's visit by Worcestershire; even the allure of a sumptuous afternoon and the return of Graeme Smith resulted in at least a thousand empty seats at Taunton on Sunday.
And what of Middlesex's much-vaunted double-header at Lord's? 15,000 watching a pair of T20 group games sounds like a triumph. Except more than twice as many, in total, regularly packed out Lord's and The Oval on Thursday and Friday nights last summer. Yes, there are mitigating circumstances - Middlesex were hardly to blame for Arsenal's trophy doubt ending simultaneously. But county cricket is adept at making excuses for itself. On a glorious day on which both the England Test captain and tomorrow's T20I skipper played at Lord's, it sent a clear message: the public just prefer Friday nights. And the sporting value - an increasingly turgid pitch (invariably the problem with back-to-back games) made for dour viewing - was questionable too.
Middlesex's scheduling, especially with a Championship game at Wantage Road the following day, amounted to self-sabotage. Eoin Morgan admitted it was "not ideal"; coach Richard Scott captured the mood by branding it "ridiculous".
Delight should have filled the air at the news that both Surrey and Sussex were penalised for slow overrates in their match at Hove on Friday night. An insistence that players get on with the game ensured that an average England T20 game finished around half-an-hour faster than IPL. T20 was designed as a fast game and it needs to stay as such. Players are notorious for slowing down a game at the slightest excuse.
It has yet to be confirmed whether the actions of umpires Ian 'Gunner' Gould and Steve O'Shaughnessy have been encouraged by the ECB. But they acted on the regulations and did T20 cricket in England a great service by doing so. We await the first Timed Out in English cricket with enthusiasm.
A welcome to friends old and new
Relaunched it may be - but it wouldn't be English T20 if some familiar faces didn't keep resurfacing. There is something oddly reassuring about the cast of T20 nomads that return every year, reassuring presence in an ever-changing world. Between them Kevin O'Brien, Scott Styris and Dirk Nannes have now played for 12 counties.
They may not be deemed good enough for the IPL, but all are assets in English T20. O'Brien bowled astutely in both of Surrey's games, though he twice failed with the bat; Nannes celebrated turning 38 with four wickets against Gloucestershire. Then there was Styris - 39 before this year's competition ends, he bludgeoned 63* for Leicestershire at over two runs a ball.
Marcus North, who has five counties to his name falls into a different category to the other three - he is playing for Derbyshire in all formats this season - but his 49-ball 90 bested them all.
There was still room for new faces to make a splash. Jordan Clark - a cult hero in Lancashire after hitting six sixes in a second XI Roses match against Yorkshire last season - smashed 44 against Notts before taking 2-30 against Worcestershire. Evidently Clark has no intention of being the player to make way if Andrew Flintoff does indeed make a miraculous return.
More testosterone please
Is there something about English cricketers that draws them to sedate cricket? Yes, it all sounds a bit fatalistic. But it is hard to imagine the wicket-to-wicket medium pacer or non-spinning spinner, two breeds of cricketer who enjoyed successful weekends, being treated with such deference in the IPL or Big Bash.
Craig Kieswetter, the top scorer in the T20 last year with 517 runs and normally regarded as one of England's most belligerent strikers, was emblematic in his two half centuries. This is not to decry Kieswetter, who was presumably playing to orders, but the sight of set batsmen decelerating - he began yesterday's innings by smiting 41 off his first 22 balls, then took 25 more over his final 20 runs - is peculiarly English.
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