Big hitters aim to thrill
Twenty20 returns to county cricket tonight with the Glamorgan Dragons, semi-finalists last season, opening their 2005 campaign with a visit from the Somerset Sabres.
Twenty20 returns to county cricket tonight with the Glamorgan Dragons, semi-finalists last season, opening their 2005 campaign with a visit from the Somerset Sabres (7pm).
The entertainment will follow the same breathless format: runs smashed and bowlers punished amid a backdrop of football-style dug-outs, blaring music and Sky hype usually reserved for its coverage of Premiership soccer.
Except this time those smart marketing men who hate to miss an opportunity have had their say and a winning formula has been tinkered with.
The three first-round groups of six remain the same, but each county will now play three rivals home and away and the other two sides only once (Glamorgan will double up against Gloucestershire, Somerset and Warwickshire, visit Worcestershire and entertain Northamptonshire).
The result is that the number of Twenty20 games will rise from 52 to 79 this season, with the quarter-finals and a finals day for the last four, this time at the Oval on July 30 remaining.
Time will tell whether this super-sizing will dilute Twenty20 to the point where the public will become as bored with the competition as quickly as they warmed to it.
"We have to wait and see if eight group games is the right number, but the popularity still seems to be there," said Glamorgan chief executive Mike Fatkin.
"Corporate-wise we sold out ages ago - the marquees are staying up after the Australia-Bangladesh game - and, judging by the inquiries we've had, it should go well.
"We sold 750 tickets alone for the Somerset game in one day - and that was the day before the one-day international!
"There was always a bit of a risk in expanding the number of group games.
"A lot of county chief executives would have preferred 10. Equally, there were some happy to have the guarantee of an extra home game than before.
"But they decided to go for four and that suits us because it gives us three great opportunities here in Cardiff and one at Swansea.
"Personally, I think cricket has to reach a position where there is a demand for something.
"We need to strike a balance - if it is going to be four home games, then let's stick with it.
"But you want to move towards a culture where people think that tickets could go and must act quickly to come to the matches."
Already, the international game is waking up to the phenomenon of Twenty20.
England's recent game with Australia at the Rose Bowl was sold out within days and the format has been welcomed with open arms in Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
Some 30,000 were packed inside Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium for Pakistan's domestic final between the Faisalabad Wolves and Karachi Dolphins, with another 5,000 locked out.
There have already been suggestions that Twenty20 matches will soon act as an appetiser for the main course of Test cricket.
"I'd be a bit wary of over-doing it at international level because, as Australia and Bangladesh showed here, you can get some gems of 50-over games," said Fatkin.
"But, at county level, it's definitely got a market. When it first started I don't think anyone expected it to be quite so big so quickly.
"When you have a game at Lord's between Middlesex and Surrey and the city empties to produce a crowd of 26,000, well, that is spectacular.
"Our best example is last season's home quarter-final when we had the draw on the Friday, sold-out over the weekend and played the game on the Monday evening."
Some 6,500 crammed into Sophia Gardens for that last-eight victory over Warwickshire, a 75 per cent home team cash split reaping a £40,000 windfall for Glamorgan.
No wonder then that high-level talks have already been held over Glamorgan joining the three other counties with permanent floodlights - Derbyshire Phantoms, Essex Eagles and Sussex Sharks - in a mini-Twenty20 tournament next summer.
"We're trying to work with the ECB to see if there is room in the calendar in 2006 for something like that," said Fatkin.
"It's still embryonic at the moment. Also, if Hampshire put lights up, it's going to be a bit more difficult with five than it is with four.
"But it's something we want to explore and have a go at with the ECB's full blessing.
"We've put the lights up and naturally we want to get the use of them."
Asked whether it was merely a cynical money-making ploy, Fatkin replied, "Some people might say that, but at the same time we only get 35-36 days of cricket at Sophia Gardens. If we believe we can run a business with that amount of cricket then I think we're being naive.
"There are 330 days where the ground is not being used for cricket and we have to be a bit more commercial.
"I'm sure people will understand we're trying to put events on in the hope that we can make some money."
Glamorgan's three Twenty20 games at Cardiff will be played under lights and a drop of the unorthodox will be provided by a hot-tub on the boundary and visiting soldiers being put through their paces.
"The fact these games are being played under lights - albeit at a time of year when they won't have a huge impact - will allow us to create an event," said Fatkin.
"It's fast, exciting and there's a razzmatazz about it. Our players have learned a lot about Twenty20 in two years, but the shorter the game the more even a contest it becomes.
"In many ways it's just what cricket needs. When you're trying to get people into the ground they don't want to know who's going to win the game."
Glamorgan: (from) M Elliott, S Ganguly, I Thomas, M Powell, D Hemp, M Wallace, R Croft (capt), A Wharf, D Harrison, A Davies, D Cosker, D Thomas