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Twenty20 love affair still on

Nine matches kick off this seasons Twenty20 Cup today with advance ticket sales topping 110,000.

Nine matches kick off Twenty20 today and, with advance ticket sales topping 110,000 for the 45 group games, the miniature game that proved so popular on its inception a year ago seems to have lost none of its attraction.

Worcestershire v Gloucestershire this evening is a sell-out and only 500 tickets will be on sale at the gate for Essex v Hampshire in Chelmsford after advance sales were closed. Next Friday's match between Surrey and Kent at The Oval, admittedly with a reduced capacity because of reconstruction work, is also a 6,000 sellout. And for Thursday, when Lord's holds its first Twenty20 match, Middlesex v Surrey, 14,700 tickets are already sold.

English domestic cricket has not previously possessed an advance ticket sales culture but last year's total attendance figure of 250,000 looks like being shattered.

The cricketing format, sensibly, is largely untouched, although there are quarter-finals this year, with finals day on August 7 at Edgbaston rather than Trent Bridge. The competition has started later to reduce the clash with Euro 2004 and the scheduling of games on preferred nights for individual counties means 60% of the group matches are on a Thursday or Friday.

An innovation is the miking up of umpires - players' mics will be used as last year - to provide television viewers with explanations of decisions. Off the field is a cornucopia of "county marketing/event initiatives", otherwise known as gimmicks. In Worcester, for instance, a remote-controlled duck will enter the outfield whenever anyone is out for nought.

Speed dating is the rage with some counties, including Worcestershire who call it "Quick Singles", hoping for spectators to find love. And bizarrely Warwickshire have registered the Soccer AM presenter Tim Lovejoy as a player to act as 12th man.

If all this seems a bit of a laugh, that is exactly what is in store tonight in Northampton where Glamorgan are the visitors. In a promotional link with the Jongleurs Comedy Store a comedy evening follows the match. The rival off-spinners Graeme Swann and Robert Croft, renowned funny men, will no doubt be regaling all with their favourite gags. The stony-faced Northamptonshire coach Kepler Wessels may be elsewhere.

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