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The battle of the mascots

As the Twenty20 carnival rolled into Birmingham for the last three matches to decide England's best short-distance cricketers, a sellout - and very mixed - crowd, made up of families, old dears, groups of noisy bachelors and a gaggle of teenybopping girls quickly filled Edgbaston yesterday morning.

A vast swathe of indifference came over them when the musical entertainment of the day was announced, and the naming of the umpires got a bigger cheer than Liberty X and Natasha Bedingfield put together, but play was under way on time, with Lancashire taking on Surrey in the first semi-final.

Of the four team mascots present, only Lancashire's - Lanky the Giraffe - made an appearance during the semi-finals, and the start of his off-field revelry signalled a dip in Lancashire's run-chase that they never recovered from. The other mascots, perhaps waiting in the wings and watching Lanky's tomfoolery - and the effect it had on his team - thought it best to keep out of sight.

Surrey's bowling at the death won them the first semi-final, and in the second, Glamorgan's Alex Wharf worked up a good head of steam, topping 88mph. Michael Kasprowicz slowed their momentum in the closing overs with some miserly bowling, but in the end Leicestershire's 165 proved more than enough to beat Glamorgan, and they stormed into the finals.

The festive atmosphere around the ground certainly spread to the commentary box, where David Lloyd kept Nick Knight and Nasser Hussain entertained with anecdotes on subjects other than the state of play on the field. "Phoenix Nights - magnificent!" was Lloyd's verdict on Peter Kay's cult comedy show, though he had lost Knight somewhere in the telling of his story, who replied: "I have to admit, Bumble, I have no idea what you're talking about." Lloyd wasn't finished there, and was soon naming the members of Liberty X, and announcing their single (Just a Little Bit) to be "a very catchy tune".

The npower girls were as popular as ever, though I'm still not sure what their job actually is, apart from slinking around the base of the stands from time to time to take the majority of the crowd's eyes off the cricket. After the semi-finals came the other scheduled entertainment for the day - performances from two of England's hottest pop acts.

The organisers handed out wristbands to willing members of the crowd before the performance, and only the (un)lucky few who managed to get hold of one got an up-close and personal look at the bands, being herded onto a section of the outfield in front of the stage before the entertainment started.

Liberty X were first, but Jessica, Kelly, Tony, Michelle and the other one didn't really get the crowd going, and only a few merry revellers chose to dance, but as many of them had been drinking beer in the sun since 11 o'clock that morning it was probably something other than the music that inspired them. Natasha Bedingfield proved more adept at working the crowd, and soon had a large throng gathered at the front of the stage clapping and waving along to her tunes. At least she had real musicians playing as an accompaniment, and took the time to point out all the "nice-looking men" in the crowd in front of her. For a while cricket was pushed to the back of the mind, and Surrey went through their fielding drills on the other side of the pitch completely unnoticed.

And then came what the crowd had really been waiting for: the finals. Surrey won the toss and decided to bat. Their mascot, Roary the Lion, crept onto a corner of the outfield now covered by shadow, buoyed by his win in the mascot's race (though this was not without controversy - he was the only runner not wearing big fuzzy shoes), but his appearance had much the same effect as Lanky had earlier in the day, and within seconds Justin Benning had sliced Ottis Gibson to third man and was out for 5.

Leicestershire's foxy mascot saw his opportunity, seizing on poor Roary's misfortune to win favour with the crowd. Cheered on by an increasingly partisan audience, he ran round the boundary, pausing only to hug a young Leicestershire fan, and whipped the crowd up into a frenzy. Roary, on the other hand, was roundly booed wherever he went, and was eventually shepherded away from the outfield by a security guard, much to the delight of the Leicestershire fans throwing increasingly volatile comments in his direction, after taunting a Leicestershire fielder who had failed to stop a booming on-drive from Ally Brown from reaching the boundary.

Roary was eventually relieved of his mascot-race title after video evidence surfaced of him taking off his lion slippers while searching for that extra yard of pace in the race, and even after setting an imposing 168 for 6, aided by Brown's 64 from 41 balls, Surrey were similarly stripped of their crown. Brad Hodge (77 not out) and Jeremy Snape (34 not out) powered Leicestershire to victory to end Surrey's two-year unbeaten run, and though they were no doubt disappointed after coming so close to retaining the Twenty20 Cup, Surrey were beaten by a superior side on the day.

The crowd remained energetic and vocal through all three matches, and if anything they were even more boisterous in the evening, despite the long, hot day. While the musical sideshow was no doubt an added bonus for some, the fans today came for the cricket, and they were very well entertained.

Liam Brickhill is editorial assistant of Wisden Cricinfo.