The good news just keeps on coming for English cricket – with the feelgood factor generated by England’s stunning triumph at Lord’s last summer now precipitating a boom in T20 ticket sales.
The competition got underway on Thursday night, with a sell-out crowd watching AB de Villiers cart Essex’s bowling around the Home of Cricket.
Further south in the capital, Surrey announced that ticket sales for their group stage matches in this year’s competition were already well ahead of last year’s figures. Given that 110,000 poured through the Oval turnstiles for seven T20 matches in 2018, that’s an impressive indication of booming interest in the summer game.
A spokesman said that Surrey’s sales were up 18 per cent year-on-year, with more than 80,000 advance tickets having been sold before the county have even begun their campaign.
The county also reported that 6,000 tickets have been shifted since England thrashed Australia in the semi-final at Edgbaston to claim their place in a first World Cup final since 1992.
It’s a similar tale at Warwickshire, with 4,000 tickets for the Blast having flown out of the door since England’s Lord’s win.
“We’ve seen an incredible response to Sunday’s events at Lord’s,” said Warwickshire chief executive Neil Snowball.
“Earlier this week we accommodated more than 600 school children over two days for tournaments on the main outfield at Edgbaston, and it’s all that they are talking about.
“However, there has also been a noticeable commercial surge as well.
“There has been spike in ticket sales for Sunday’s opening home game of the Vitality Blast, between Birmingham Bears and Leicestershire Foxes, whilst most of the tickets that remained for the Sunday of our Specsavers Ashes Test match have also been snapped up.”
All in all, England’s domestic showpiece T20 competition couldn’t really have wished for a better start. All that’s needed between now and the tournament’s end is for the weather to play ball.
The story at Surrey and Warwickshire is one that Rod Bransgrove, the Hampshire chairman, hopes will be repeated elsewhere before the summer is out.
“This is a great launchpad,” he tells The Cricket Paper. “This could be exactly the shot in the arm that the game in this country needs. We’ve seen that viewing figures for the final were almost nine million (across Channel 4 and Sky), and if they’re right then the World Cup has already reached so many new viewers.
“We’ve got the T20 Blast and then the Ashes, so the hope must be that we can finish this summer on a massive high. It’s an enormous opportunity.
“We couldn’t have really written this any better.”
He’s not wrong, although if any script writer had come up with the plot that unravelled last Sunday then they would probably have been shown the door and told to have a cold shower before coming up with another one.
England’s triumph hasn’t just provided the nation with a much-needed filip, it has also given a massive boost to a 50- over format that, before England began revolutionising the way it was tackled, was beginning to look a little tired and rough around the edges itself.
As it is, the excitement generated by England’s win and the drama of the Super Over more than justifies the focus placed on white-ball cricket and the 50-over game particularly, when Andrew Strauss assumed the role of Director of Cricket at the ECB in May 2015.
That said, Bransgrove urges caution over what he describes as the potential ‘downgrading’ of a 50-over competition that will no longer involve a Lord’s final – an enormous break with tradition after 56 years.
“I can remember (Andrew) Strauss attending the chairmen’s meeting and coming up with a presentation that detailed how essential it was to focus on white ball activity and creating a white ball team that was capable of competing with the best,” says Bransgrove.
“Everybody bought into that concept although there are times when it still seems as though that’s not always the case, with the one-day final taking place on the first day of the ICC World Cup lockdown and the final of the one-day cup being moved from Lord’s.
“At a time when the game is at its ultimate high, there’s this image of us downgrading that competition a little bit, which is something I think we must try and avoid.”
As the Blast kicks-off, though, there’s no doubt that it does so in an environment where suddenly anything seems possible and given the cast list taking part in this year’s competition, there’s a definite feeling that those passing through the gates could be set to witness one of the most hotly contested T20 competitions since its inception in 2003.
The atrocious weather on Friday may have put pay to a round of fixtures – but it will take something dramatic to rain on this parade.
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