After all the hype and speculation, Twenty20 cricket finally arrived at the Rose Bowl on Friday, where the electric atmosphere generated by an ecstatic Southampton crowd was only just overshadowed by an enthralling game of bat on ball, quite literally, writes ALEX NAREY.
In the end, Hampshire's six-run victory over the Sussex Sharks was just the icing on the cake after the crowds had turned up in great numbers, 9,000 to be exact. As Paul Terry's side continue to show fine form in limited overs cricket.
In the blazing south-coast heat, there could not have been a better setting for this revolutionary style of professional cricket. Already a hit across the country's village greens, who would have thought that the 20 overs format of the game would grab the limelight quite like it did at West End on the tournament's opening day.
However, the big question now remains; will the impressive crowds continue to make their way through the turnstiles or will all the hype come and go as quickly as some of the batsman did to the crease in Friday's encounter.
For that, we will find out, in due course. But for the moment it appears that the concoction of attacking strokeplay and quick wickets are set to leave their mark on the country's youngsters after cricket chiefs identified a need to regroup and take a look at public relations last year.
Make no bones about it though, the new format was not without criticism when it's best-laid plans were put forward by the England and Wales Cricket Board, with some quarters of the game arguing, quite simply, that it's ‘just not cricket'!
But with fierce marketing campaigns and through heavy television broadcasting thanks to Sky TV and Channel 4, it is hoped now that at last cricket will become a national summer sport for everyone rather than just the anoraks who follow every ball around the country.
The game is just about as quick as cricket can be, with football style dug-outs replacing the players balcony and chnaging rooms whilst with the fall of each wicket the incoming batsman must be at the crease within 90 seconds.
And the early signs can only be positive, with Friday's matches topping 30,000 in crowd attendance, representing 40 per cent of the total crowd figure in last year's 45 Benson & Hedges Cup group matches.
The game itself was certainly of the nerve jangling variety for both sets of supporters, with Hants batting first and making a competitive but more than gettable 153 all out.
James Hamblin and Derek Kenway got the Rose Bowl side's account of to a flyer, with the former taking a particular liking to the Sussex attack before Jason Lewry bowled him around his legs for 34.
Kenway continued to take on the attack though, and moved steadily to 35 before a handful of wickets fell as the Sharks fought back bravely after a target of approaching 200 looked more of a reality at the innings' half-way stage.
Three wickets in three balls — the middle one being the run out of Farnborough-born Shaun Udal — then brought the Hawks stint at the crease to an early close with two balls of the allocated 20 overs still to be bowled.
In reply, Sussex needed quick runs whilst Hants needed quick wickets and it was the Hawks who got off to a flyer with Wasim Akram dismissing both Matthew Prior and Zimbabwean Murray Goodwin with successive deliveries.
From here the Sharks were up and against it. However, resistance and a touch of flare came from the entertaining all-rounder Robin Martin-Jenkins, before wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose plundered Hants' Military attack to all parts of the ground to set up a final over where 10 runs were needed against the pace of Ed Giddins.
The former Surrey and England star defied the fear of the yips to hold his nerve, as only three runs were picked up from a tightly bowled over as the celebrations and musical festivities began to mark the fantastic occasion.
Hamblin, who had done so much for his county with the bat, chipped in with a decent bowling performance to grab the Man-of-the-Match award, and claimed afterwards that the evening had been unlike anything he had experienced in the county's colours.
"I've never played in any atmosphere like that," said Hamblin. "It seems like a successful competition and I can't wait to get a bit more of it."
Meanwhile, off-spinner Udal admitted that the last time he took part in a 20 over encounter, he would have been wearing the colours of Camberley rather than the county side, saying: "It was probably against Farnham in the Flora Doris Cup many years ago. But I have to say that I thought the whole experience was outstanding and had everything that the crowd could wish to see."
Tomorrow, Hants face Essex in another day/night encounter at the Rose Bowl, whilst Surrey and Hants were due to play Sussex and Kent respectively as the Mail went to press on Monday. Look out for a full round-up in Friday's News.