Silly season has come early, again. But is it time to take Twenty20 more seriously? Surrey certainly think so - they hope success could turn their season around after a shocking start.
They've got the pedigree to give it their best shot; winning it the first year and reaching the finals day in the other three competitions. Adam Hollioake was their captain in 2003, but they turned down his approach this year - that's how confident they are in their youngsters.
Twenty20, while acknowledged as a commercial and spectator success, has still often been dismissed hit-and-giggle, but it helped launch England's campaign against Australia in 2005 - to Ricky Ponting's peril after he had initially laughed the game off.
One Australian who isn't laughing now is Matt Nicholson, Surrey's pace bowler, whose side have had the smiles wiped off their faces this year. "It's a good opportunity to use this as a springboard for the rest of the season and get a momentum going," he says. "Let's start from now and look forward and look upwards."
But while England's Ashes winners used the game to do exactly that, they also benefited from a first-choice first-class eleven. It may be too late for them to stage a complete turnaround, but the mid-summer madness of Twenty20 is perfectly timed for some relief, take a breather, mental time away from first-class.
Surrey's bowling is still probably too weak to help them turn round their fortunes in the Championship. Yet never say never; as Nicholson says: "Cricket is a confidence game. If we can get some confidence back in the line-up we can go forward for the rest of the season".
The players can see the lighter side, of course: even James Benning, who should be seriously thinking about England honours in the Twenty20 World Cup this September. Sometimes he doesn't even do any pre-match preparations: "It depends what time I turn up. It's a bit more relaxed." All the same, an increasingly serious element is creeping in.
|A few in the blockhole, a few at their head. Variation, confuse them a little bit|
Chris Schofield, who's been given a second life with Surrey after wandering lonely under a cloud for three years, is keen to be playing any kind of cricket these days. He's not messing around. "I'm playing all the one-day games," he says earnestly. "Things are looking up. I played the first two years of Twenty20 with Lancashire. I absolutely loved it and am looking forward to it again."
The game may be markedly different in tempo - and provides a huge contrast with the Tests that have just dragged on - but is it essentially that different? "Don't forget the basics," says Nicholson. Yet there are, naturally, differences. "While it's competitive and you desperately want to win, "it's not as hard on the body as the four-day game.
"Most blokes have played enough cricket to realise if they're playing a four-day game they have to put their head down a bit. If they're playing a Twenty20 you've got to get on with it."
There are further differences in both batting and (all kinds of) bowling. For fielding, of course, you need to be as sharp as ever. How does batting differ? Benning's top tips for batting are: "Keep to what you're good at. Play strong cricket shots. Get in the gym. Watch the ball hard. And enjoy it. Keep in your comfort zones and expand your game through time and effort."
Nicholson has these hints for pace bowling. "The key is getting the ball to move. If you're bowling straight you're probably in a bit of trouble. Offcutters or swinging the ball or a change of pace... if you're moving the ball you've got half a chance of taking wickets which puts them on the back foot.
"At the end, it's a change of pace: a few in the blockhole, a few at their head. Variation, confuse them a little bit."
Spin bowling in Twenty20s is almost the polar opposite to first-class, at least for Schofield. As he explains: "With Championship cricket you try to float the ball up and make the batter make mistakes, whereas with one-day cricket you bowl a bit flatter. One-day, what you're trying to do is not let the batters free their arms.
"My main objective will be to just try and keep it down for a minimum. The wickets come anyway, it's just trying to contain them. You bowl your four overs - to go for 30 or less you're doing a good job."
The Surrey batsmen will be walking out to the Clash classic, London Calling. But it's not just London who are calling for some good cricket. There is so much cricket that there is a danger of overkill - but not, it seems, for the short game, which is selling out fast. "Three hours is good for everyone," says Schofield. "People can have a few beers then go out afterwards."
And it remains a good way in for new supporters, attractive to children - and of course to the money men. Packed crowds, sun and fun are what it's all about and where it's at. So, grab them before they're all snapped up.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo