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South Africa catches Twenty 20 bug

When the Twenty 20 Cup was introduced into English cricket last year, no-one was quite sure what to expect.

When the Twenty20 Cup was introduced into English cricket last year, no-one was quite sure what to expect. Dreamed up as a way of enticing a new generation of supporters into the game, there was no guarantee the cricket itself would live up to the hype. Ultimately, however, it proved a runaway success, with more than 250,000 people flocking to watch the giddy brand of three-hour action.

The concept was soon seized upon in other parts of the world, especially South Africa, where plans for the Standard Bank Pro20 Series were announced in February. "If we thought one-day cricket was hectic and exciting, this is going to take the game to a new level," said national captain Graeme Smith. "You are going to see some serious hitting and fielding, and the bowlers are going to be challenged."

But would the 20-overs game catch on in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth as it had at Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Headingley? The answer has been a resounding yes. Prior to Saturday's final between the Eagles and Eastern Cape in East London, skippered respectively by Nicky Boje and Mark Boucher, a total of 144,786 fans had watched 16 games.

The Pro20 Series has breathed a new lease of life to cricket The Wanderers ground at Johannesburg attracted the highest crowd for a game between Highveld Lions and Nashua Dolphins which saw Lance Klusener and Shaun Pollock steer the latter to victory with one ball to spare. The competition has been doubly important because it has seen the debut of six franchise teams, replacing the 11 provincial sides which formerly competed in South African domestic cricket.

"It's been an outstanding success. The last time we had such consistently big crowds was the launch of night series cricket in 1986-87 - and those were isolation years, no international cricket and very little else to choose from," South African journalist Neil Manthorp told BBC Sport. "Nobody watched our domestic cricket before this. You could go to Grace Road [in Leicester] or Northampton, see 300 people and think 'This is poor', but if you go to Bloemfontein, you won't see three people and the only noise comes from the players' balcony. "First-class cricket is absolutely flat on its back."

A gap in the international calendar enabled South Africa's top players to have their first taste of Pro20. Some of them have not found it easy to adapt. Smith's highest contribution was 28 and Morne van Wyk, a member of the one-day squad in England last summer, managed only eight runs in five innings for the Eagles en route to the final. Titans, meanwhile, were bowled out for just 47 in the semi-finals despite having a side containing six players with international experience.

The South Africans have copied the English blueprint - captains have miked up to talk to TV commentators and umpires have been advised to adopt the flamboyant style of New Zealand Test official Billy Bowden. And the verdict among the players has been uniformly positive. "There hasn't been a single dissenting voice - not one. From 37-year-old Daryl Cullinan down to the 18-year-olds, they've thoroughly enjoyed it," said Manthorp.

This summer England's women will sample 20-overs cricket against New Zealand and across the Atlantic, AmericanProCricket will try to help the game gain mass appeal in a market dominated by baseball.

Crash, bang cricket is here to stay.

Source - bbc.co.uk

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