Leicestershire v Yorkshire, 20/20, Grace Road, Sunday 20 June
“So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!”, as Henry James once said (or had said to him) in a different context. My first 20/20 match.
One of my many reasons for disliking 20/20 cricket has always been that it is so difficult for me to get to watch it. (And I do realise this is like saying “That was inedible muck and there wasn’t enough of it”). The argument is that a match that starts at 5.30 is convenient for people to watch after work, but only – surely? – if they work within about half an hour’s travel from the ground. In my case (and I do see that this is an extreme example) I work in London and watch cricket in Leicester.
A Sunday afternoon match, though, I can get to, so last Sunday I thought I’d give it a go – and I must say it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
I suppose my wilder preconceptions about 20/20 are based on what I take to be the more extreme manifestations of the form- the IPL, or the World Cup. I was expecting frenzied crowds, incessant chanting, cheerleaders, lights, music, action! On the pitch I was expecting the bowlers to be under the cosh, DLT Maximums raining down on the crowd on every side from scoops, switch-hits and miss-hits.
I should have known that it wouldn’t be quite like that at Grace Road (or not, at least, when Leicestershire were batting). The general atmosphere of the thing was rather like one of our more ambitious village fetes, or a mid-Summer fair. I wouldn’t have too surprised if, at the end, David Smith had announced the results of the Guess the Weight of the Cake competition. When the Yorkshire fieldsmen formed a perfect circle around the wicket I half expected a display of country dancing. Even the music seemed to have chosen by one of our zanier curates.
The crowd was decent, but not, to my eye, much bigger than they get for a 40-over Sunday game, and not very different in its composition – though a few of the regulars (e.g. the Last Gnomes) were notable by their absence. The Stench Gang, though, were present and audible, though surprisingly, sticking to the traditional air horn rather than the voguesish tones of the vuvuzela.
There was an opportunity to play something called “Cricket bingo” – the first prize a scooter (worth £2,000), which was ridden around the boundary in the interval (though not, disappointingly, by Matthew Hoggard). I hope the match-fixing police are keeping an eye on this. The winners of another competition got to sit in “the best seat in the house” – a sofa in front of the old scorebox, and a complimentary pizza at half time. Unfortunately they had been held up in traffic and only arrived in time for their pizza.
Hoggard rather set the tone for the day in his pre-match interview (for the benefit of Sky) – “Q. What’s the pitch like, Matthew? – A. It’s about 22 yards“. Asked about the match the previous Friday (an ill-attended local derby against Northants), Hoggo couldn’t remember who they’d been playing.
When Leicestershire batted the expected onslaught in the opening overs didn’t materialise. The two batsmen capable of whacking it over the ring – Jefferson and Du Toit – were pegged back by some conventional, nagging “back-of-a-length” bowling from Bresnan et al. and both out cheaply. Brad Hodge (brought into the 20/20 side, as a reminder of the days when Leicestershire used to win it) scored mainly by steers through the vacant slip area, and was eclipsed by the innings from Taylor.
I had been worried about the effect the 20/20 break would have on Taylor’s batting. In his last few innings in 4-day cricket he’d been in good form (including a double hundred) and building momentum. I should have remembered that last year his purple patch came after the break, and there may be something in the idea that being forced to go for runs early on loosens him up. (But the last thing he needs is technical advice from me,so I’ll shut up about that).
But it was sublime stuff – like watching edited highlights of one of his four day innings, with a reverse sweep I can see in my mind’s eye as I type.
But there wasn’t a great deal of doubt, to Grace Road regulars, as to what the result would be – even after ten overs of the Leicestershire innings, and certainly after the first few overs of the Yorkshire reply. This was, I’m afraid, much more what I was expecting – fairly uncomplicated (if often mis-hit or sliced) clumps over the ring for four from Gale and Jacques. It was all over in 15 overs, the only wicket a stumping off a wide – something I’ve rarely seen before.
Another You Are the Umpire moment occurred during Taylor’s innings, incidentally.
Q. A fast bowler bowls two successive head high full tosses to a very small batsman, who smashes the second one over the scoreboard. What do you do?
A. Order the bowler to be taken off (however much he complains). The over must be completed by another bowler.
And then the Vicar thanked us all for coming, complimented Mrs. Shufflebottom on her tasty rock cakes, said how lucky we’d been with the weather, and expressed the hope that he’d see us all in Church next Sunday. Well, I think I’ve been partially converted.