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George Dobell at Edgbaston
June 6, 2014
Warwickshire 147 for 4 (Chopra 51) beat Durham 146 for 7 (Hastings 36)
This report could start with a description of Shoaib Malik's quietly impressive start to life at Edgbaston. It could start with a description of Ben Stokes' unhappy evening or the impressive pace generated by Boyd Rankin.
It could even compare the difference in standard of fielding between these two sides that was the main ingredient in a result that sees Warwickshire - in their guise as Birmingham Bears- leapfrog Durham in the North Division table.
But, bearing in mind that the T20 Blast is designed to relaunch the game in England and Wales, bearing in mind that this was a perfect summer's evening, bearing in mind the good gate figures elsewhere in the country and bearing in mind that this was a match scheduled in that Friday night slot in which so much hope was placed and it seems more pertinent to start with what might be described as the modest crowd number.
The official figure rated the attendance 6,000. Even taken a face value - it looked a generous assessment - that figure compares with an average of 5,500 for 2013. That was a season that benefited from little of the marketing push that preceded this campaign and when matches were seemingly spread across the week at random.
While it is too early in the campaign to jump to conclusions, such a figure does provide food for thought.
It may be that there has been a backlash against the decision to rebrand Warwickshire as Birmingham Bears for this tournament. While that tactic is, in many ways, at least understandable and perhaps even laudable, the fact is that the traditional membership is distinctly unimpressed by it. Anecdotal evidence suggests it is the straw that has broken the camel's back for some.
But the decision to deny the counties the services of the Test squad for this game seems a particularly short-sighted move. If the aim of this tournament is really to inspire a new generation of supporters, then the likes of Ian Bell and Chris Woakes should have been made available for this game on their home ground.
Not only is Bell arguably the most famous contemporary sportsman in the region - this is not a golden age for Midlands' football - and quite capable of adding significantly to gate figures, he is also crying out for more experience of T20 cricket. Having just been recalled to the England T20 squad, you might think he would like add to his tally of one T20 game in the last three-and-a-half-years.
Sadly, though, the suggestion that the ECB would make the centrally contracted players available more often for this competition has turned out to be false.
It also suggests that the ticket price - £22 on the gate - is just too high. While there is an incentive to pre-book (£15), that acts as a disincentive to those who prefer, understandably given Edgbaston's recent history, to wait and see how the weather is before booking.
And if this competition is about investing for the future by inspiring a new generation of supporters, a ticket price of £22 seems steep. A family of four will, after parking and refreshments, be lucky to spend less than £75. Cricket in England is not so popular that it can ask so much.
At least those that attended - a good-natured bunch that made their own fun when necessary - appeared to enjoy what they saw. Hopefully they will return.
Those that did attend saw that the difference between the teams in this match was the fielding. While Warwickshire's throws hit the stumps - Shoaib ran out Mark Stoneman in the first over with a direct hit from mid-off; Rankin picked up in his follow-through and ran out Scott Borthwick - Durham's missed. Chopra could have been run out on three occasions, most notably on 20 and 21, had Durham's accuracy been better. Paul Collingwood also put down a tough caught and bowled chance offered by Chopra on 43.
Stokes endured a miserable evening. While he bowled with waspish pace, he was involved with a mix-up that saw Borthwick sent back and run out and was then bowled, first delivery, by a quick, full ball from the ever impressive Jeetan Patel. By the time Stoneman dropped a simple chance offered by Laurie Evans off his bowling, it was hard not to fear for the lockers in the Edgbaston dressing room.
Durham were actually flattered a little by their final total. Only a career-best score from John Hastings, who might just be a giant in man fancy-dress, helped them to anything like a respectable total on a fine track. Hastings helped plunder 50 from the final five overs as the Warwickshire bowlers, so impressive until then, started to miss their yorkers by a crucial few inches.
It never looked likely to be enough. While Durham, and Usman Arshad in particular, built some pressure, it could never be sustained. Borthwick's first two balls - a horrid full toss and an even more ugly long-hop - were despatched for 10 in all by the increasingly impressive Jonathan Webb and with Chopra oozing class in his half-century and Malik and Evans providing the acceleration, Birmingham - or Warwickshire, as you prefer - were never likely to be denied.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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