NatWest T20 Blast countdown

Wishing on an England star

Relay catches and the ECB disconnect lead ESPNcricinfo's countdown of the things that mattered in the latest round of NatWest T20 Blast matches

Vithushan Ehantharajah

June 9, 2014

Comments: 4 | Text size: A | A
The best night of NatWest T20 so far

Luke Wright, Chris Woakes and Joe Root at the Investec Derby, Epsom, June 7, 2014
The distance between us... England players were unavailable for T20 action at the weekend © Getty Images

5. Long live the relay catch
That we now see relay catches taken on a regular basis is a testament to the higher standards cricket sets itself in the field. Indeed, it is the quality of fielding that has gone some way to bridging the gap between bat and ball in T20 cricket. England and Surrey fielding coach Chris Taylor has long been an advocate of pushing players to the outer limits of their capability in the field by drumming into them that they are capable of doing anything. It helps, too, that players now practise these unfathomable catches in very specific ways.

Over the last three years, T20 cricket in England has given us three examples of "pop pass" boundary catches. In the 2012 quarter-final, Worcestershire's James Cameron fell victim to some sharp work from Joe Root, running round from long-on, who took the first catch and relayed the ball to David Miller, closely in tow. Last season, Ravi Bopara and Tim Phillips - in that order - caught out Notts' Rikki Wessels to all but seal Essex's Finals Day appearance.

But Friday's effort in the Roses match was by far and away the best. Adam Lyth could not believe it, thanking Nasser Hussain constantly as he watched his own replay on the Old Trafford big screen. He was almost horizontal when he took the catch - a blinder in its own right - before finding enough momentum in his arms to go against his falling torso and throw the ball back in to the bear hands of Aaron Finch.

4. Where are the fans?
Much has been made of the ECB's new schedule for the T20, with the tournament now spread out rather than in a block. The hope was this would lead to an increase in gate receipts, bar takings and county profits. As we enter the second month of the tournament it is worth reflecting on the numbers attending games. While Surrey's game with Essex drew a decent crowd on Friday night, the newly christened Birmingham Bears couldn't even muster a half full Edgbaston.

As the weekend ended, the Sky cameras were at Bristol for a game that was starting at 2.30pm on a Sunday. Entry for kids was free and there were activities around the ground to keep them interested. Despite this family-friendly start time and pricing, the ground had as many empty seats as full ones.

Is it the product that isn't appealing with not enough players achieving the standard needed for games to be a big draw? Is it the marketing? Is it the media? Are adults tickets too expensive? Whatever the reason, the longer the turnstiles remain unused the more the clamour for franchise T20 will take hold.

3. England miss a cheap trick
With the ECB keen to reconnect with the fans, a massive opportunity was missed by making those 12 selected for the first Test unavailable for some fun and festivities in this round of fixtures. It seemed almost counter-productive in this era of, well, new eras that the England team were shielded from the fans, only to be whisked off by helicopter to the Derby on Saturday and also take part in a golf day.

With ticket prices as they are, the majority of youngsters attending T20 matches do so because they cannot afford the price of Test cricket. As such, this is where the next generation of fandom begins. It would have been a small gesture to offer locals the chance to watch their national stars, some of whom will not don county colours for the rest of the season. It is at times like this when the disconnect between the ECB, top hat donned, and its own product seems most apparent.

Player focus: Daniel Christian (Middlesex)

  • There was a chance that Daniel Christian was going to have a repeat of his underwhelming season with Gloucestershire where, in the 2013 competition, he averaged 14.12 with the bat and 66.00 with the ball. Even now, as Middlesex succumbed to their sixth defeat in as many games, it may be argued that their money was best spent elsewhere. But Christian showed what could have been with an astonishing knock against Kent that underlined that Middlesex weren't too far away from getting things right. His 129 off 57 balls (12 fours and 10 sixes), in pursuit of Kent's 208, was the highest innings by a No. 5 batsman in T20 cricket. At least for Christian's own sake, he has shown that he is not the problem.

2. KP will need to walk his talk
Kevin Pietersen: batsman, businessman, whistler and one-man news storm. He made his return for Surrey this week, his first appearance in a cricket match in his adopted country since his dismissal from the employ of the ECB. A big crowd turned out, a few of them no doubt drawn to The Oval by the chance of seeing the maverick entertainer in action. As he walked out to bat he was met by boos. It wasn't the whole crowd, but a large enough section for them to be heard.

There are few characters that polarise opinion the way Pietersen does but, more than that, he draws eyeballs to the game. As ever he becomes the focus of the story. This isn't even the first time he has been subjected to boos from the crowd. It happened back in 2012 in the aftermath of the textgate affair. Back then, as now, the headlines were not about Surrey's defeat, or the brilliance of their opponents. The story is Kevin, whether he succeeds or fails.

With his new weekly column for the Telegraph - the first of which gave a candid summary of England's dressing-room atmosphere in Australia - Pietersen will offer his "thoughts and analysis on all things cricket". Quite how his game deals with the pressures of playing over the weekend and filing on a Sunday remains to be seen. It's not easy, Kev…

1. Worcestershire soars
Their squad is threadbare yet somehow Worcestershire are summoning the sort of fight that saw Northants charge to the FLt20 title last year. Being top of the North Division - on paper, the hardest of the two - is impressive, even if they have played two more games than most their competitors. A rebranding to the Rapids and the adoption of a crocodile as a mascot were self-deprecating moves that did not smack of a team with lofty ambitions. But all the parts, from the major coups (Saeed Ajmal) to the minor counties (Shropshire skipper Richard Oliver) have been dovetailing nicely.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (June 10, 2014, 12:45 GMT)

I was at the Oval on Friday night and didn't hear a single boo for KP. Apart from anything he was up and out of the 'bench' so quickly that most people were still clapping Amla off. There were a few mutterings around me, but these were almost all of the 'oh look, its KP, hope he's exciting' variety, or Essex fans hoping he would fail, rather than accusations of villainy.

Posted by   on (June 9, 2014, 14:17 GMT)

scheduling these fixture for sat/sun clashes with us social cricketers. These are best played Wednesday or Thursday evening. Friday games also conflict with those of us playing in Saturday leagues.

Posted by py0alb on (June 9, 2014, 13:49 GMT)

Give the new schedule half a chance. Its only been around a few weeks.

Posted by CodandChips on (June 9, 2014, 12:55 GMT)

"This isn't even the first time he has been subjected to boos from the crowd. It happened back in 2012 in the aftermath of the textgate affair. Back then, as now, the headlines were not about Surrey's defeat, or the brilliance of their opponents. The story is Kevin, whether he succeeds or fails."

Back then the boos were mainly due to the circumstances of his career at Hampshire. That day he failed as well. Bowled for a golden duck by left arm spinner Liam Dawson, and received a huge cheer in the process.

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Group A: Derbyshire v Gloucs at Derby - Aug 21
Derbyshire 271/7 Gloucs 76/2 (13.1/50 ov)
Group A: Hampshire v Yorkshire at Southampton - Aug 21
Hampshire 172 Yorkshire 151/3 (26/50 ov)
Group A: Lancashire v Leics at Manchester - Aug 21
Leics 184 Lancashire 124/1 (21.2/50 ov)
Group A: Northants v Essex at Northampton - Aug 21
Northants 311 Essex 103/1 (17.3/50 ov)
1st Semi-Final: Surrey v Warwickshire at Birmingham
Aug 23, 2014 (11:00 local | 10:00 GMT | 06:00 EDT | 05:00 CDT | 03:00 PDT)
2nd Semi-Final: Hampshire v Lancashire at Birmingham
Aug 23, 2014 (14:30 local | 13:30 GMT | 09:30 EDT | 08:30 CDT | 06:30 PDT)
Final: TBA v TBA at Birmingham
Aug 23, 2014 (18:45 local | 17:45 GMT | 13:45 EDT | 12:45 CDT | 10:45 PDT)
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