Finals day a test of endurance
It might seem strange that cricket's shortest format should produce its longest day but that is the perverse story of the Twenty20 Cup.
It might seem strange that cricket's shortest format should produce its longest day. But that is the perverse story of the Twenty20 Cup, which will be held aloft by a jubilant captain at around 10.30 tonight.
The purists might argue that Twenty20's adrenalin-fuelled hoicks and hustles are only suitable for post-watershed viewing. But surely a finals day that runs for fully 10 hours is taking things too far. In the words of Jim Cumbes, the Lancashire chief executive, "That's not enjoyment, it's an endurance test."
Cumbes' objection - and it is a valid one - is that some of their fans will have to leave home at around 5am to get to the Brit Oval by the start of their semi-final against Surrey at 11.30am. Lancashire then face the possibility of early ejection from the tournament, should Surrey stage a repeat of the agonising one-run victory they scored in the identical semi-final last year.
If, on the other hand, Lancashire should win through to the final, those Mancunian fans travelling under their own steam will have to make a choice between catching the last few overs or the last train home. It does seem a little odd that Lancashire are on first, but then Somerset and Leicestershire could have raised similar objections.
Since its arrival in June 2003, Twenty20 cricket has been an undoubted triumph. But this is one area that still needs a little fine-tuning. Finding the best format could be a matter for experiment, because while three three-hour matches in a day can be exhausting, a lone final could equally seem a little under-powered.
The solution might be to follow the lead set by England's 20-over international against Australia last month: one warm-up exhibition match, which on that occasion pitted an invitation XI against Hampshire, followed by the main event. If the tradition of gratuitous Aussie-bashing could also be maintained, so much the better.
Three of the teams who contested last year's finals day are back for more today. Such consistency suggests that the Twenty20 Cup is less of a lottery than some suggest. Teams with a clear-plan can overcome those with more obvious talent, a theme that Leicestershire have reinforced since the departure of last summer's match-winner, Brad Hodge.
Lancashire, though, start as favourites. The length of their journey is more than counterbalanced by the fact that they alone have not spent the last four days playing championship cricket. And in Andrew Symonds and Andrew Flintoff they have two of the most accomplished power-hitters on the planet. Their 1,000 fans may be drowned out by 7,000 Surrey-siders, but after last year's narrow reverse, they have a score to settle.
If you fancy tackling Cumbes' endurance test, there will still be a few tickets on the door this morning. But Surrey are warning everyone to arrive early because of the extra security searches put in place after recent events in London. For those determined to be in their seat for the first ball, it all goes to making the longest day even longer.