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Twenty20 allows youngsters to shine

Posted in Domestic Cricket

Travelling to Southampton for my first Friends Provident t20 finals day, it is fair to say I was not sure what to expect.

The line-ups were mouth-watering with Somerset boasting international stars such as Marcus Trescothick, Craig Kieswetter and Kieron Pollard, while Notts’ bowling attack, which included Dirk Nannes, Graeme Swann, Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad, would have stood out in international cricket.

Factor in the attention surrounding Alastair Cook’s attempts to find some form, along with Hampshire looking to secure a first Twenty20 title on their home ground, and you can see the undoubted intrigue.

However, my interest was captured by a different variable.

I was focused on how the young players such as Danny Briggs, the third highest wicket-taker in the competition prior to finals day, would perform.

Much maligned by cricket’s ‘old guard’, but embraced by the ‘younger crowd’, it is fair to say Twenty20 has sparked some controversy since its introduction in 2003.

Some claim it has given the sport a much-needed new lease of life, while others fear it will prove the death of Test cricket.

However, one thing cannot be disputed - it is giving young players an opportunity to showcase their talents in a high-pressure environment.

What could be better preparation for the trials and tribulations of international cricket than an action-packed finals day in front of a full house at the Rose Bowl?

Arguably, there is no better gauge of a player’s ability to perform at the highest level.

Around the world players are grasping their opportunity to elevate themselves to the grandest stage by putting in performances in the game’s shortest form - Pollard, Eoin Morgan and Pragyan Ojha to name a few.

Don't get me wrong - the experienced heads still come to the fore, as Trescothick, Neil McKenzie, Abdul Razzaq and, not least, Dominic Cork could testify.

However, at the end of the day, two names were on the lips of most onlookers: Briggs and Jos Buttler.

The former has operated under the radar for much of the competition, despite ending it as the second most prolific bowler with 31 wickets.

His performance in the semi-final, in particular, belied a man of such inexperience as he mixed an attacking line with subtle changes of pace to claim 3-29, having taken the key wickets of Mark Pettini, Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate.

If Briggs was impressive, it paled in comparison to Buttler, who lit up the Rose Bowl with a sparkling display in Somerset’s semi-final against Nottinghamshire.

The 19-year-old spent much of the competition behind the stumps, while Craig Kieswetter was on international duty, before the Somerset hierarchy deemed him good enough to play as a specialist batsman.

And boy did he repay their faith.

His 55 evoked comparisons with the aforementioned Morgan as he mixed the outrageous 'Dilscoops' and flicks with the sort of brute power you would not associate with a man of his stature.

Such was the quality of his 23-ball knock that Trescothick’s sensational half-century earlier in the innings became a distant memory, with Buttler remembered as the match-winner.

It seems England may have unearthed a real gem in the Somerset man, while Briggs undoubtedly has a future at the highest level.

Meanwhile, other young fledglings such as James Vince and James Hildreth may not have had the impact they would have hoped prior to the occasion.

However, the nature of t20 ensures they will have another opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage. Long may it continue.