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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Party time for cricket fans
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at the Rose Bowl

Hampshire's players await their turn in the middle
There were some nail-biting moments on the home bench

A sunny evening, a packed Rose Bowl, the blast of piped music and the promise of live acts to come combined for a party atmosphere at the first ever game of Twenty20 cricket.

As home side Hampshire successfully defended a total of 153 in a match that went down to the final over, the crowd of 8,500 erupted at the fall of every wicket, and cheered every new batsman.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) proudly announced that a total of 30,050 spectators attended the first five matches on Friday.

But will the numbers be similarly impressive when the next match comes to the Rose Bowl next Wednesday, this time next year or when there are grey clouds hovering?

And, more importantly from the point of view of the game's authorities, will the extra interest spread into other areas of the county game, from the 45-over National League to the four-day County Championship?

County cricket has reinvented itself before in search of new fans and new revenues.

A dearth of interest in the Championship prompted the arrival of one-day cricket, in the form of the 60-over Gillette Cup, as long ago as 1963.

Hampshire captain John Crawley
It's a new experience and it was enjoyable - it was frenetic out there
Hants skipper John Crawley

Since then the game has been revolutionised, with one-day international cricket proving the most popular form of the game worldwide.

But the razzmatazz that accompanies Twenty20 - bouncy castles, face-painting, barbeque areas - has all been tried before.

A new era was trumpeted back in 1992 when the Sunday League embraced coloured clothing; team nicknames were adopted in 1999 with the aim of adding marketing muscle.

But, expensive floodlit matches aside, much of the one-day game is played by second-choice players in front of empty seats.

David Manning, who made the trip from Reading for the opening match, is one fan who believed it is a historic occasion.

Manning, an Essex fan, and his friend Geoff, go to go to Test matches every year and make an annual pilgrimage to the Cheltenham Festival but are far from county regulars.

"It's fantastic - absolutely love it," he says.

"The great thing is its proper cricket - you take wickets, you bowl people out and you stop the run-scoring.

"We'll come and watch a few games."

Just like watching the late-night highlights on TV, the action is non-stop.

Giles Berkley and his wife Alex are marshalling a group of 10 of their son's schoolfriends.

And they make up exactly the market the ECB are trying to target - cricket fans who never go to see the county game.

Misteeq
Mis-Teeq providing a musical finish to proceedings

"The boys are obsessed with cricket - they love it - but they don't go to many games," Giles explains.

"We've taken them to Lord's and The Oval a few times but this is the first local game we've been to," Alex adds.

"We'll definitely back for Twenty20 and if the youngsters can come and enjoy this then maybe the [longer version of the] county game has a chance of netting a few of them."

There is only one thing on the minds of many of those prowling the boundary and it is not the 13 men on the field dressed, oddly in the age of coloured clothing, all in black.

Teen band Mis-Teeq are due on the stage at square leg an hour after the game finishes, and the youngsters are restless.

Hilary, taking in the event with middle-aged friend and a disparate group of girls, says the combination of cricket and music made "a good excuse for a night out".

How easy is she finding the game to follow?

"I'm more interested in the burger and chips at the moment," she said.

Fans of chips and chart-toppers may not be back next week, but an exciting, highlight-packed game of cricket in the sunshine can only help boost the gates.




SEE ALSO
Twenty20 Cup photos
13 Jun 03  |  Photo Galleries
How to play Twenty20 cricket
13 Jun 03  |  Cricket
Sexing up cricket
08 Jun 03  |  Cricket
Cricket's Twenty20 vision
08 May 03  |  Counties
Pure entertainment beckons
13 Nov 02  |  Counties

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