South Africa v England, Group E, Cape Town September 16, 2007

The allure of the double-header

Hugh Chevallier at Newlands
One of the greatest strengths of Twenty20 has been the willingness to experiment

Graeme Smith and Paul Collingwood toss up at the start of an eagerly awaited contest © Getty Images
One of the greatest strengths of Twenty20 has been the willingness to experiment. Reverse-pulls and slow bouncers have confused bowlers, puzzled batsmen and thrilled crowds. And there's another innovation, perhaps less apparent to the TV audience than the spectators (and writers) at the ground.

The double-header is an intriguing idea: two separate matches involving four different teams on the same ground, one played an hour or so after the other. It's a long way from five-day Test cricket, but if you try to squeeze a 27-match tournament into under a fortnight, there's no choice.

So what do the audience think? They seem to lap them up. Today's games at Newlands were sold out - although, given that one was South Africa v England, it would have been a major surprise if they weren't. Wisely, that game was scheduled for the evening, so there was no chance of a full-house dribbling away once the Australia v Bangladesh game ended soon after 4.30. Even at the start of the less (locally) appealing game, the ground was at least three-quarters full.

Despite the predictable, one-sided game that began in the afternoon, the atmosphere was lively. The crowd seemed happy enough - as well they might given that they could see two matches for R60 (a little over £4) if sitting on the grass, or R120 (around £8.50) in the stands.

What they couldn't do between games, however - at least not until 5pm - was drink beer. It's a long-standing tradition that the Newlands bars close between 4 and 5, so they had to make do with other attractions.

The England team, for example, were in the nets. With around 17,000 in the ground and no live cricket, they cannot have had such an audience for a practice session anywhere outside the subcontinent. The fans were about ten deep. Elsewhere, small boys and their parents - mums as well as dads - were playing impromptu games of cricket on the tennis courts. Older lads put jumpers down for goalposts and kicked a ball about.

And suffusing the air was the smell of grilled meat. The early spring sun was bright rather than warm, but the braais burnt regardless, and the stalls selling peri peri chicken had snaking queues. In contrast to the high-octane sport, the break had a relaxed feel. Everyone seemed to feel that the double-header was a bit of a bargain really - rather like a supermarket's BOGOFF (Buy One; Get One For Free) promotion.

Unlike the stands, the press box was distinctly quiet for the Australia v Bangladesh game. But it filled up as the floodlit match approached: the two biggest media contingents at this tournament are from South Africa and the UK, so it was rather more of a scrum come the evening. One or two from the British Sunday papers had even had time for a spot of whale-watching before bowling up to the ground.

For them, though, a double-header is old hat. Finals day in the English domestic Twenty20 Cup - the model for this tournament - has its own triple-header. The ECB, wrongly as it turned out, had worries that the final would not be enough of a draw in itself, so the semis were held the same day. That's three games, 120 overs. Hard work for the journalists.

Same again this evening, with the dailies having to file just moments after the game ended if deadlines were to be met. They'll be taking a familiar line... Dropped catches, an innings that never got going... England needing to win all their remaining matches to stay in a global competition...

Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack