Fear and Loathing in the T20 Blast

Flicker/wolliwoo

Flicker/wolliwoo

Perhaps no competition in the cricketing world engenders more scorn than the T20 Blast. Despite soaring attendance, it is derided as tinpot—many times, justifiably so. When Chris Gayle—one of cricket’s biggest stars—made a brief cameo appearance in the Blast, one would expect that the competition’s administrators would have done anything possible to ensure the proceedings would be televised. In this case, you would be mistaken.

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, Gayle put on one of his greatest performances. Yet, beyond a scoresheet, the only evidence we have to show for it is several minutes of handycam footage that has more in common with the Zapruder film than any televised cricket broadcast. It would be embarrassing—but English cricket administrators commit similar blunders with such shocking regularity that, at this point, all one can do is shrug.

But, when everything goes according to plan—be it via a last-ball win or a five-wicket haul—the cricket itself can be wonderful. After a stop-start summer schedule, the 19 competing counties were pared down to just eight. The past week saw these remaining counties meet in the quarterfinals, each vying for a place at Finals Day in Edgbaston.

Yet, perhaps more so than the matches, the biggest piece of news from this past week pertained to the Blast’s future—namely, the fact that it would survive. Amid a season’s worth of rumors that city-based T20 franchises were a mere year or two away, this revelation was greeted with relief by fans of the smaller counties—sides that would have been left out of the rumored ten-team competition. For so-called cricketing progressives, the response was less enthusiastic.

For better or for worse, the T20 Blast has been granted a new lease on life. Thankfully, perhaps in celebration of its commutation, three of the four Blast quarterfinal matches produced memorable results—albeit, not always for the best of reasons.

Northamptonshire runs rampant over Sussex

While the County Ground faithful may have been dismayed to see Northants dispatch Sussex with relative ease, they can take some solace in the fact that they witnessed once of the fastest T20 centuries in the format’s history. David Willey, in a mere 40 balls, walloped 100 runs and collected 17 boundaries, including 10 sixes. England would be well advised to test the 25-year-old’s mettle against more formidable opposition. The impending ODI series against Australia provides just that opportunity. In two previous innings with England’s one-day side, Willey has managed a batting average of just 7.5. He has nowhere to go but up.

Warwickshire v. Essex…was a match

Laurie Evans scored a half-ton. Warwickshire won by 24 runs. I still have to Google the spelling of “Ryan ten Doeschate.” Nothing else happened.

A glorious Hampshire knock, blacked out

Many, many angry diatribes have already been written on the embarrassment that was the Worcestershire-Hampshire quarterfinal at New Road—and rightfully so. Perhaps no other occasion could more incandescently illustrate the backwardness that epitomizes cricket than playing a day-night elimination match at a ground without floodlights. Neither those at New Road nor those watching on television deserved to be party to the shambolic Duckworth-Lewis-decided match.

Yet, much of the anger regarding the influence of darkness on the match ignores a nearly expunged glimmer of light—James Vince’s century. Vince’s ton wasn’t as rapid as Willey’s—it required 60 balls—but it was a well-earned match winner. While Vince’s only England cap was in the rained-out ODI against Ireland in May, much like Willey, the Cuckfield-native looks to have a bright future ahead of him.

Red Roses victorious by the thinnest of margins

It featured this catch. It ended in a tie. It was phenomenal. Lanacshire, while victorious, only advanced on account of wickets lost. There can only be praise for Kent. Despite providing Lancashire a relatively meager target of 142 runs, the Spitfires managed to scrape back and leave the balance of the match in doubt until the final ball was bowled. Needing three to win outright and two to tie, James Faulkner swatted Matt Coles’ full-length delivery toward the leg-side stump on the opposite side of the pitch. If the ball had been struck just a fraction of a second later, it would have plowed directly into the middle stump on the non-striker’s end and promptly died, leaving Lancashire a tantalizing two runs short of victory. But luck’s cruelty is in the most meager of angles. Instead, the ball ricocheted toward long-on, Faulkner ran for two, and Lancashire secured the final spot at Edgbaston. For all its foibles and flaws, the T20 Blast provided match that, if only for a moment, silenced even the harshest of cynics.

As a format, T20 is loud, garish, and on occasion, unseemly. Yet, in the right light, in the right moment, it can produce beautiful cricket. Lancashire’s victory was just that.

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Filed under County Cricket 2015, Match Review, T20

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