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Warning: earplugs required

Posted in Domestic Cricket

Apologies for the delay, but my laptop has only just recovered from the battering it took on Friends Life t20 finals day.

I swear there were wisps of smoke coming out of it towards the end of the longest and most frenetic (feel free to add your own superlatives) day in the domestic cricket calendar.

Three games, two one-over eliminators, sensational catches, record bowling figures, super subs, unlikely heroes, emotional farewells and a shock to rival all t20 shocks in the final. Even the mascot race went down to the wire.

In these financially austere times, value for money could not have been further from the minds of the 24,000 fans crammed into a bouncing, booming Edgbaston.

Nothing assaults the senses quite like finals day, which has become a wonderfully quixotic mix of pantomime, disco, fairground and even 1950s cinema (in the press box at least, where catering staff wandered the aisles handing out ice-creams). Oh, and some outstanding cricket.

Those with sensitive hearing would be advised to stay away, or at least bring a reliable pair of earplugs, because the music was nigh on incessant from the moment the first semi-final got under way at 11am until Leicestershire’s players, drenched in champagne, lifted the trophy at 10pm. Their celebrations, needless to say, stretched until the morning.

For those early-rising spectators who may have nodded off at any point in between, a horn that would have silenced a Harrier Jump Jet served as a handy wake-up call, and every new batsman at the crease was introduced to the crowd by the sort of chap for whom understatement is probably a capital offence.

Paul Nixon

The retiring Paul Nixon leads Leicestershire's celebrations after bringing down the curtain on his domestic career in some style

I’m told by those with a much tighter grasp of current affairs than me that he does the same for contestants on the X-Factor, in which case we should all express our gratitude that he had a spare Saturday in his schedule.

Bigger, bolder, louder seems to be the mantra at t20 finals day but, if the unstinting enthusiasm of a bumper crowd made up of families, grown men in fancy dress and genuine cricket aficionados is anything to go by, it works.

To hold people’s attention for 11 hours is no mean feat – especially when the weather is in one of its less friendly moods, as was the case on Saturday – so hats off to all those who played a part in the organisation of an event whose scale, judging by the army of staff and helpers at the presentation ceremony, would give the royal wedding a run for its money.

To the most important matter of the day, then: the mascot race. It was won, fittingly, by Leicestershire’s Charlie Fox, whose sprint finish to pip Sid the Shark (Sussex, since you ask) brought even seasoned press box campaigners to their feet.

It also averted a steward’s inquiry after Sid, in the manner of a disobedient dog at Crufts, chose to run around rather than through the first obstacle. It just wasn’t cricket, and the crowd were not shy in letting him know.

As for the small matter of the cricket, Leicestershire and Lancashire defied the rain to serve up a thriller of a semi-final that ended, following the inevitable contribution of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis, with the scores tied.

Cue much frantic thumbing of the regulations handbook in the press box and a one-over eliminator that is cricket’s equivalent of the penalty shoot-out. For the record, Lancashire performed the role England’s footballers have perfected.

Sean Ervine & Dominic Cork

A relieved Dominic Cork helps Hampshire tie their semi-final. He was also responsible for my favourite moment of a frantic day

Then, would you believe it, Somerset and Hampshire repeated the trick in the second semi (Somerset held their nerve when it mattered most), which prompted one to wonder how many of the few empty seats during the final were down to supporters, their nerves in tatters and fingernails non-existent, opting for a darkened room instead.

Given what went before, Leicestershire’s 18-run win over Somerset may have been a touch on the dull side for some, a comment that reminds me of the club umpire who, having seen a teenager survive a hat-trick ball, muttered under his breath, “Boring, boring batsman”.

If Leicestershire’s defeat – against a Somerset side whose top order was seemingly reared on spinach – delighted those with a very British soft spot for the underdog, it also provided a fairytale ending to Paul Nixon’s county career. The brother’s Grimm would have been proud to have penned such a script.

As a modern man (I'm not ashamed to admit I moisturise daily), I freely confess that my eyes were moist when Nixon pulled off a one-handed diving catch that defied gravity, age and most people’s expectations to account for Kieron Pollard.

Not satisfied with a standing ovation after each of his (brief) innings with the bat, he found himself in the middle of a collective Leicestershire bear hug. Even amid a mountain of bodies, you could still make out Nixon, his distinctive bald pate glistening under the floodlights, celebrating the crowning glory to a distinguished career stretching back to 1989.

I wrote at the time that Nixon’s catch will be the image by which finals day will be remembered, although it appears the photographers were polishing their lenses at the time.

Yet the moment that best sums up finals day for me was Hampshire captain Dominic Cork, minutes after his side had their reign ended by Somerset in heart-breaking fashion, cheekily elbowing his way into the mascot’s photo on the start line.

The chance of t20 glory, a place in the Champions League T20 and the millions of dollars that go with it may have been snatched from his grasp, but Cork had not lost sight of the fact that finals day remains, above all else, great fun.

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