T20 Finals Day: a long day's journey into a floodlit evening of fireworks and fanfare.
T20 Finals Day: three hefty dollops of disappointment, one massive plateful of joy. The first three are staggered through the day; the joy is celebrated until light seeps under the door of night on a Sunday morning in Birmingham
T20 Finals Day 2016: short form, short showers and the beguiling transience of fame. Twelve months ago Gavin Griffiths and George Edwards were in the Lancashire side that won the Blast. Late last month both players were told they were being released. As Northants and Notts warmed up in early morning, it really was not cheesy to hope that a similar fate does not befall any of the players from the four teams competing this year.
Losing the first semi-final of the T20 is a bit like arriving at a party, putting your bottle on the table and then being told that it's already time to leave. And well before three o'clock it was the Outlaws who had been handed their coats. Some of Dan Christian's players may have got home by the time the final was due to start.
Mick Newell was sitting in that early press conference all four coaches wanted to avoid and bemoaning the failure of his batsmen to chase down 162. One of the many good things about Newell is that he does not wrap truth in euphemism: he had no problem about selecting Dré Russell because the bloke had been playing in ICC competitions; Notts were in a relegation battle at the bottom of Division One because they had not been playing well enough. Already Newell was thinking about Scarborough on Tuesday when Nottinghamshire will play Yorkshire.
Most people have long since ceased being surprised by Northants' short-form cricket. Alex Wakely's men have always punched above their weight, a particularly fine achievement in their case. All the same, their victory against the Outlaws was a considerable coup, not least because they had lost both Richard Gleeson and Seekkuge Prasanna from their full-strength T20 side. So while it was difficult to work out who Outlaws would leave out, it was also a little tricky to decide who the Steelbacks would call on.
Northants had played Notts in seven previous T20 matches and had won none of them. They ended that miserable run partly, as Newell said, because Notts' top order performed poorly, but also because Ben Duckett played an innings littered with invention. It would be interesting to work out how many of Duckett's 11 fours and two sixes had a place in any of the coaching manuals written five years ago.
"Ballance ct Collingwood b Wood 0 will always be one of the great dismissals, a great catch at leg gully and a fast bowler in his pomp"
Certainly not the inside-edged fours, of course, and it would be a modern cricket book that would include details of the reverse pull, the scoop or the ramp. Yet Duckett played all of these as easefully if they were off-drives, his bat describing exotic curves even as the ball came towards him. D'Artagnan.
The Northants scorecard looked a little like that you find when a club side imports a couple of county professionals: one bloke made 84, another 53 and no one else more than 8. This was ironic really, since the Northants coach, David Ripley, rightly makes much of the fact that all his players contribute to their successes
For all that it was blessed by good fortune in its early stages, Duckett's innings was touched by genius yet it was not the most spectacular cricket seen in the semi-finals. That honour belonged to Mark Wood, whose four-over spell transcended any context and reminded one that a truly quick bowler in full cry is one of the greatest sights in the game. For many Durham supporters Ballance ct Collingwood b Wood 0 will always be one of the great dismissals, a reminder of a great catch at leg gully and a fast bowler in his pomp.
Mediocre? I think not.
Still, of course, we were nothing like done. Edgbaston is rarely shown to better advantage than when it hosts the T20 final, even when the occasion is punctuated with showers. But no one seemed to mind about the rain. Keaton Jennings played an innings as orthodox as Duckett's had been unconventional. His booming straight sixes were toasted by one line of dancing men wearing tennis gear from the 1950s and another group who felt an overpowering need to watch the cricket dressed as soldiers from the days of the Raj. "Look, stranger on this island, now".
Northants needed 154. The crowd waited for Wood. When Collingwood called on him to bowl the second over there was a rippling hush which, in its way, was comparable to that before the first ball of a Test match. Perhaps it is fearful pace which causes such a reaction, maybe it's the animal danger as well.
For a few balls Wood did not disappoint his new fans. Scott Borthwick clung on to about as sharp a slip catch as he can have taken and then he ran out Richard Levi. Next over Rushworth had Duckett leg before. Again one was reminded of the current Durham Yearbook with its photograph of Paul Collingwood clutching the badge on his shirt and brandishing it in the lens of the camera. A hard man for hard times.
Then Josh Cobb won the game for Northants. Usman Arshad bowled a dreadful over, the type that makes opponents believe they are not yet defeated. Rain hammered down and Cobb blasted the ball into the blackness. A six off Borthwick cleared the Hollies Stand and sailed towards the Colts Ground.
Cobb's nickname at Wantage Road is "Tuckshop"; he tucked in and Durham could not bowl to him. Wood was recalled but was pulled to the boundary and his moment had gone. The night was filled with cracking noises as this big man in a team of big men clubbed fours and sixes. Late wickets added a frisson of doubt but no more. Some people left early, others danced.
Soon it was done with and the presentation platform which had lain unoccupied behind the Wyatt Stand since early morning was being wheeled across the outfield. More rain. It billowed vengefully across the ground as if making up for its restraint during most of the day. But the Durham players were deep in the moment of defeat and the Steelbacks may not have noticed a blizzard.
There will never be a franchise at Wantage Road but they had earned the right to savour their joy. At the press conference Alex Wakely clutched the trophy, Cobb a bottle of champagne from which he swigged. They joked and took selfies. Nobody minded. Then, like 23,700 others this boisterous day, they disappeared into the Birmingham night.