Well, it wasn’t quite the outcome I was hoping for but Essex were worthy champions in the end. But perhaps – cliche warning! – cricket was the real winner in the end. Or more specifically county cricket was the winner.
Despite a pitch that lacked pace, and made big hitting somewhat tricky for long periods, T20 Finals Day delivered in a big way yet again. The first semi final produced a dramatic finish when hapless Notts snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Worcs.
And the second semi saw Simon Harmer record incredible figures of 4-19 as Essex dashed Dominic Cork’s hopes of lifting a trophy with Derbyshire.
The ensuing final went to the wire. At one point it looked like my team Worcs would retain their trophy quite comfortably. The dew didn’t arrive as early as Essex had hoped for when they won the toss, which allowed the likes of Moeen Ali and Pat Brown to take the pace off the ball effectively and establish a stranglehold. However, the ball seemed to skid onto the bat a lot easier in the last 5 overs and Ravi Bopara took advantage brilliantly. What a stalwart he’s been.
It was only fitting that Simon Harmer was there at the end too. The South African spinner, who has been the best slow bowler in the country for the last couple of years, was easily the man of the day. He’s a class act. His bowling looked unplayable on the spinning surface and he took seven wickets in total across the two games.
There’s nothing particularly flash about Harmer – he’s just a really good old fashioned off spinner – but you can see why he’s been so effective for Essex in all forms of the game. His action is simple, economic, and repetitive, and he gives the ball a pretty good tweak too. The question everybody’s talking about is whether he could / should play for England.
Although he has already played five tests for South Africa (taking 20 wickets at an average of 29), the 30-year old Harmer has said that he’d love to play test cricket for England now that Essex is his home. Whether this is possible or not is something of a grey area at present. There’s talk of Harmer needing to backdate his visa if he wants to play as early as next summer.
Personally, however, I don’t think it would be right for England to pick him. Yes we’ve adopted ‘South Africans’ in the past but we’ve never selected someone who’d actually played test cricket for them. What’s more, although supporters of other countries seem completely oblivious to this fact, England’s foreign imports in the past have usually had strong British connections.
Here are a few prominent examples: Kevin Pietersen’s mum is British. Jofra Archer’s Dad is British. Ditto Matt Prior. Both Allan Lamb’s parents were British. So were Robin Smith’s. And so were Tony Greig’s. Jonthan Trott’s ancestry is British and his grandfather played for England many moons ago.
The only player I can think of who had no British heritage was Graeme Hick. But he served a really long qualification period and played for Zimbabwe as a very young man before they had test status. Consequently, I think that Harmer would be slightly different.
Although some cricketers have played for two countries at international level in the past – Luke Ronchi immediately springs to mind – once again the parallels with Harmer aren’t exact. Ronchi, for example, was born in New Zealand so representing the county of his birth after initially representing Australia wasn’t quite as controversial.
In fact, the only player I can think of who represented one country, emigrated elsewhere, and then represented another was Kepler Wessels. And I don’t think any England supporter would want to sink to Australia’s level when it comes to stealing other nations’ talent (wink, wink).
The other question when it comes to Harmer is whether England actually need him? It’s an interesting question. Jack Leach is currently our No.1 spinner and I’m quite happy with him. Leach is still young and likely to improve; therefore Harmer might only be pressed into action on winter tours when we need two spinners. Would it be worth raising eyebrows around the world for the sake of a thirty one year old reserve spin bowler? I’m tempted to say not.
Although others are entitled to disagree, and inevitably will do so, it just wouldn’t sit right with me if England did fast track him into the squad. The emigration of talented South African cricketers to other countries is a real problem area and it doesn’t seem fair to me. Yes I can understand their reasons for leaving their home country – and this has absolutely nothing to do with being against immigration per se – but I’d cautiously urge the ECB to tread carefully. I’d be against England picking Duanne Olivier in the future too (unless he has some British heritage I’m unaware of).
Anyway I digress. The focus of this article was really meant to be T20 Finals Day itself. It’s always a superb occasion and it was great to see the supporters out in force again – even if several spectators looked the worse for wear by the close. It’s worth pointing out that three of the four sides involved were smaller counties (i.e. they don’t have test grounds) which just goes to show what a great leveller T20 can be. The guys at sportsbetting24.in would’ve had incredibly long odds on Derbyshire reaching the final.
Despite the drama that the Blast usually creates, there was a rumour doing the rounds on social media that this could be the last ever finals day. This is allegedly because the ECB don’t want such a popular event to upstage Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit next year. I have no idea if this rumour is true – I suspect not because the Edgbaston website is already encouraging spectators to apply for 2020 tickets – but I wouldn’t be too shocked if it happened.
Of course, the success of Finals Day and the T20 Blast in general raises the question as to whether our domestic cricket actually needs a tawdry competition like Hundred. Fortunately I can answer this question for you right now. The answer is that it doesn’t. English cricket needs The Hundred like a fish needs a bicycle. And it’s as plain as the frustration etched on traditional cricket fans’ faces.
This summer T20 Blast attendances were up 15%. And they’re up a whopping 47% over the last five years. That’s a stunning achievement. Domestic short form cricket is therefore clearly in rude health. It’s bringing in both the punters and the money.
Adding yet another format that will inevitably overshadow the Blast is therefore a crazy decision. Why would you try to fix something that’s so obviously not broken? And why would you risk millions of pounds doing so? As far as business decisions go it’s about as boneheaded as you can get.
Because the publicly declared rationale for The Hundred is so unsteady, one wonders whether it really is about growing the game, appealing to a broader audience, and getting cricket back on terrestrial television. Let’s not forget that the BBC signed up to broadcast franchise cricket back when everyone assumed it would be a T20 competition.
We can all speculate as to what the real reasons behind the tournament are. Perhaps it’s all about ego? Cynics might say it’s all about making money from licensing. I really don’t know. But what I do know is that the events of this summer – winning the World Cup, Ben Stokes’s miracle at Headlingley, the knife-edge finish to the county championship, and the drama on Finals Day – have reinvigorated public interest cricket far more than an artificial plastic-fantastic franchise fiasco ever could.
Written in collaboration with Sportsbetting24