Huge stage set for derby
After the first couple of games in this year's Twenty20 season, there were some murmurs that its popularity was on the wane.
Not any more. A sell-out crowd is expected at Edgbaston this evening to watch the first of two local derbies in four days between Warwick-shire and Worcestershire. The return match at New Road will also be played in front of a full house.
Such a sell-out is almost unprecedented for a county game at Edgbaston. Indeed, it is more than half-a-century since it last happened.
A crowd of 28,000 packed the ground to watch the opening day of a Championship game against Lancashire on Saturday July 21 1951. How times have changed.
That was the first day of Birmingham's 'industrial fortnight', when all the factory workers were on holiday and the school holidays had just started.
There will not be that many at Edgbaston this evening. Capacity is usually around 21,000 but, due to the position of the pitch, large sheets have been spread across some of the seats and reduced that number by several thousand.
Over 12,000 tickets have been pre-sold to non-members, while several thousand more members are expected to attend. There should still be some tickets for those who want to turn up this evening.
The large attendance more than justifies the club's marketing policy of the last couple of years. Warwickshire were criticised in some quarters for giving away so many tickets last year, but it has proved a wise move.
None have been given away this year and the consequent income will do no harm at all as the club seek to plug a worrying hole in their finances.
Of course, if the team can clinch a home quarter-final, the club's finances will receive an even more significant boost.
To do that, they will need to beat Worcestershire today and on Tuesday. That will not be easy, for though Worcestershire have a dismal record in the Twenty20 tournament this year (they have lost all five games after last night's reverse at New Road against Gloucestershire), they have an excellent record against Warwickshire.
Worcestershire have won the last five limited-overs meetings between the counties, including both of last season's Twenty20 games by a single run.
In the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy game earlier this summer, their spin-ners took advantage of a poor pitch to help their team to a resounding victory. Gareth Batty and Ray Price took five for 38 from 15.2 overs, exploiting not just the conditions but a Warwickshire batting line-up that has struggled all season against the turning ball.
Worcestershire's spinners are unlikely to have things quite so much their own way this time. Although they have added a third spinner - Shaftab Khalid - to their 12-man squad, the pitch this time should be far less helpful.
This game will again be played on a glued surface which should reduce the assistance available to all the bowlers. From a Warwick-shire perspective, that is just as well.
With the signing of Paul Harris still yet to be completed, they go into the game without a specialist spinner. Ian Westwood and Jim Troughton will do their best to fill-in, but using part-time bowlers is a huge risk.
In the circumstances, however, Warwickshire have little choice. With Ashley Giles, Daniel Vettori and Nick James injured and Alex Loudon involved in a pointless England A fixture, their spin bowling resources are much reduced.
One man for whom the game is particularly special is Kabir Ali. He graduated through the youth system at Edgbaston but was then deemed surplus to requirements at the club. He doesn't like to miss an opportunity to show Warwickshire what they missed.
"I live about five minutes from the ground, so lots of my family and friends will be there," he said. "Worcester-shire are a much smaller squad and it does motivate us to come and put one over our rich neighbours.
"We had a stinker of a start to the season at Worcestershire but the fact that we have a small squad has worked in our favour. We have a real sense of team. I think sometimes with a huge squad like they have at Warwickshire, it can be more difficult to achieve that spirit."
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