Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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In Season Four, Episode Six of The West Wing CJ Cregg, the White House press secretary, is explaining to Albie Duncan what he might expect in the Spin Room following the pre-election presidential debate. Albie has been at the State Department since Gettysburg but he is unused to some aspects of late 20th century politics and is disconcerted when CJ says he will have foreign policy questions fired at him by a scrum of journalists, some of them hostile. "Is that dignified?" he asks. "Absolutely not. Don't even hope," comes the reply. Let us assume that anyone attending their first Vitality Blast Finals Day this year had been similarly disabused of any elevated notions. Edgbaston on the third Saturday in September is almost nothing if not raucous and, in the best sense, vulgar.
So maybe it was useful to arrive at the ground early in the day, just before the fog lifted to reveal Birmingham's distant temples of profit and when the City still wore the beauty of the morning in all its quietness. Such Romantic tranquility was brief. Before long the loudspeakers were being put through their paces. "All the people / So many people / And they all go hand-in-hand / Hand-in-hand through their parklife / Know what I mean?"
Anyone unsure of their response to Blur's question was soon treated to a crash course in Shameless enjoyment. The Mexicans arrived, as did the bananas, as did some very worldly nuns. As did the duck quacks when Tom Prest made nought. So perhaps rather than the glorious cadences of Aaron Sorkin's drama, we should settle for the very different but equally memorable lines of Paul Abbott when considering the mighty jumble of good-natured humanity that poured through Edgbaston's gates when they opened at nine o'clock. "All of them know one of the vital necessities in this life…" says Frank Gallagher when introducing his neighbours on the Chatsworth estate. "They know how to throw a party."
Marchant de Lange soon discovered that Chris Wood also knows how to throw a bat and we had our first crowd catch of the day; a fine snare it was, too, completed by a gentleman of vaguely Sicilian appearance although I daresay he actually comes from Balsall Heath. Five minutes or so later Joe Weatherley's fine knock of 71 ended and it was pleasing to see him acknowledge the applause that came from all parts of the stadium. It's a while since anyone thought anchoring a T20 innings to be a contradiction in terms.
Not until the second innings in the first semi-final was the ground full. By that stage almost all of those who also wanted to see Kent's game against Sussex had turned up. They saw Somerset's early batsmen leave it to each other to get the runs, thereby forgetting that most of them are in dreadful nick. But then Tom Abell, who's been in some of the poorest form of all, made fifty and a game that was lost was won thanks to Ben Green, Craig Overton and Josh Davey. They will have enjoyed that in The Blue Ball at Triscombe.
Kent's semi-final featured a fine innings by Daniel Bell-Drummond, some underestimated bowling by Fred Klaassen and contributions to please the headline-writers from Darren Stevens. By now the crowd was warming up, a process that may possibly have been aided by alcohol consumption. One was reminded how much more fun T20 Blast Finals Day is at Edgbaston than it could possibly be at Lord's, a venue which, for all its attempts to connect with the kids, is still a ground for great occasions applauded by folk in their best clobber. The Hundred is missing a trick.
Charles Dickens would have loved Finals Day. He understood the appeal of popular entertainments very well and wrote about them in his journalism and novels. He would have taken one good look at the fancy dress, the dancing spectators and the heaving masses…and started making notes. For this is the one day in the cricket year when Mr. Bounderby makes common cause with Mr. Pickwick while Fagin's urchins scuttle around the Hollies Stand picking the pockets of giraffes and penguins. Indeed, some might argue it is a day when the spectators matter as much as the cricket they watch.
And unlike some previous years relatively few spectators left Edgbaston before the final was completed. This can be viewed as a shame because there was rather less obvious partisanship in evidence for an occasion and a format that often derive their strength from unashamed allegiance. (Some spectators from certain counties were wont to head home when their sides were knocked out.) But it can also be seen as a sign of strength in that people want to be a part of Finals Day even before they know which counties will be represented. They want to support the cricket and the cricketers and they will do so regardless. You do well not to find this encouraging. Even amid the booze and the music and ballyhoo, people do watch the games and applaud the players, never more ardently this evening than when Abell sprinted back to take the extraordinary catch that removed Joe Denly off Roelof van der Merwe; and never more appreciatively than when Jordan Cox and Matt Milnes combined to pull off perhaps the most stunning relay grab in the Blast's 19-year history.
And yes, they remember last year. They will never forget it.
Finals Day in 2020 was the wettest in British meteorological history but by far its most dismal feature was the absence of a crowd. When one hears the babble of conversation in the sixth innings of this day as people wonder if Somerset can chase down 168 and when one sees the enormous congas begin in the Hollies Stand, it is difficult to credit we coped with games utterly devoid of atmosphere.
But no one could doubt the intensity of the mood at Edgbaston this evening as we entered the last ten overs of the Blast season. Almost every break in overs was punctuated by a chorus: The Human League; Jeff Beck; Toto; The Proclaimers; Bryan Adams; and Neil Diamond, writer of the short-form game's national anthem.
And now the cricket has ended and it is Kent's players who are smiling and looking forward to a good night in Birmingham. Somerset's players are standing around in the manner of runners-up and wishing all the presentations could be over so they can go home. The groundstaff are rolling some pitches and mowing others. The stadium will need tidying as well for this has been a marvellous party and there is one helluva clean-up needed before Warwickshire try to win the County Championship on Tuesday. And no one is calling Edgbaston the Garden of Eden this Saturday evening. At least, I don't think they are. Actually, don't even hope.