Giving the fans what they want
This season has seen a new range of innovations brought into one-day internationals but early trials of Supersubs and Powerplays met with a decidedly cool response from players and public alike. The same cannot be said of the most successful limited-overs innovation in recent years as a full house at The Oval demonstrated the continued thirst for Twenty20 action - both on and off the field.
Heading to the ground in the morning the trains, tubes and buses hosted a sea of various coloured shirts as Lancashire, Leicestershire and Somerset fans made the long journey - for what ultimately could have proved a depressingly short stay for their team. There was also the slightly confusing sight of a couple of guys in Warwickshire shirts - perhaps they had forgotten they'd been knocked out via a bowl-out against Surrey. Maybe they knew that their mascot - Carmen Bear - would pull off a thrilling victory in the mascot race, or maybe they were just making the trip to enjoy the half-time entertainment provided by Girls Aloud.
Being a county supporter certainly demands some dedication, not to mention a disturbing enjoyment of a lack of sleep, and the need to own a reliable car. One Lancashire fan had set off from Manchester at 4.30am, arriving in London four hours later. His plans were to travel back north once Lancashire's participation had been ended and, as they progressed into the finals, he realised coffee would be needed for the return journey. "Oh well," he said, "it's Sunday tomorrow, so I can have a lie-in."
Surrey fans did not have the same problem of a long distance journey, in fact they had home advantage when they took on Lancashire in a repeat of last year's semi-final. By the time Surrey were beaten by 22 runs, the supporters would have been grateful for the short hop home.
The crowd grew during the first semi-final and so did the atmosphere. Lancashire's clash with Surrey had plenty of spice, and the crowd were certainly not shy of having a word (it must be a North-South thing). But by the time Leicestershire and Somerset took to the field the various beverages on offer had had time to take effect and the singing was now in full voice. Clear sections of support for each county began to take on each other in an attempt to sing the loudest and most out-of-tune chants they could manage.
Crowd participation is a huge part of Twenty20 cricket, although the minor scuffle that broke out as the afternoon wore on probably isn't what the ECB had in mind. The fan who was escorted away, to the amusement of the rest of the stand, had obviously had money on Sid the Shark and not Carmen Bear.
The electric pace of Twenty20 means the spectators can't take their eyes of the on-field action for a moment, not only so they won't miss anything but also for their own safety. Andrew Flintoff hit one flat, straight six which went like a tracer bullet, while one fan found a Darren Maddy sweep heading straight into his foolishly unguarded pint. Another spectator decided to try and catch a thunderous shot from Alistair Brown and was left wringing his hand in pain. He will have more sympathy next time he watches a catch go down.
Sadly, the crowd did not get nearly as involved with the half-time entertainment from Girls Aloud as they had with the cricket. A small group of 'fans' amassed in front of the stage area - some old enough to know better - but generally the sense was that the crowd wanted either to go home and lick their wounds, in the case of Surrey and Leicestershire, or to get ready for the final.
And that just emphasises one of the developments in this summer's Twenty20, which has been notable for a reduction in the gimmicks that were such a large part of the spectacle when it started in 2003. Girls Aloud had the misfortune of falling foul of the weather but Twenty20 cricket is now able to stand on its own two feet. The two semi-finals are a perfect example of this, one match produced more than 400 runs, the other a thrilling last over finish. Somerset's fightback even led one long-suffering fan to remark, "I'd rather watch Carl Gazzard than Girls Aloud." Twenty20 is about giving the fans what they want, and clearly they are not tiring of the cricket ... but the entertainment is another matter.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo