T20 is the time of year when many a cricket traditionalist goes into hibernation for fear the game they love is about to be turned into a slog-fest.
To those purists I can only say they should have been at Uxbridge tonight to witness Dawid Malan’s stunning knock for Middlesex in victory over Hampshire.
The left-hander produced a gem of a knock every bit as good as the hundred which first made his name in this competition in the semi-final against Lancashire at the Oval back in 2008.
Five boundaries in his first five balls set the tone for his 93 off 48 balls and every one was a proper cricket shot.
A straight drive off Will Smith began the onslaught, but it was Tino Best who bore the brunt of the most elegant of assaults as he was hit for four successive fours.
A square drive, a cover drive and a whip through mid-wicket were followed by straight drive to complete the set. Ironically, the ball which broke the sequence, a forward defensive off the same bowler broke the bat resulting in a call for reinforcements.
Best would later extract a measure of revenge catching the newly installed Middlesex T20 skipper at fly slip off the bowling of Gareth Andrew, but by then Malan’s blade had smote five sixes and 10 fours.
For teammate Ravi Patel it was the perfect example of a skipper leading from the front in a style few can emulate.
“It was an unbelievable innings by Dawid. He is so consistent in T20 and such an elegant player, beautiful to watch. You won’t see many better innings than that all season. The way he struck the ball so cleanly and he has so much power in his game as well. It was a terrific innings and set up the victory.
“Dawid is good enough to play proper cricket shots without slogging in T20. Not many players are that good, so they have to invent shots and do other things, but he does not have to do that.
“He is such a good player he is so talented. He has e very shot in the book anyway and with a cover drive all he has to do is extend his arms and it will go for six over extra cover.”
Malan had organised a heart to heart with teammates pre-tournament asking for a braver brand of cricket than that which has seen them eliminated at the group stage every year since 2008.
Patel gave further insight into a session addressing the woes of their performances in the format over recent years.
It seems it was a no-holds barred sort of chat where players were called to front up in a way at times uncomfortable, but on this evidence at least some early fruit has come from it.
“It was a sort of honesty session to get everything out in the open tell everybody things that they might not want to hear,” said Patel.
“We feel because we will be more together on the field sort of thing.
“We did talk tactics and plans, but the main message was to play fearless aggressive cricket and we have done that today so we are very happy.”
For all of Malan’s elegance Hampshire, who in contrast to their hosts have reached finals day six years running, began well enough though a stunning catch at third man by substitute fielder Nathan Sowter gave Middlesex early momentum.
“It was an unbelievable catch,” continued Patel.
“As a substitute fielder not starting in the game with a ball like that hit up to you, then you are going to be nervous under it.
“The way he took that catch was sensational and it gave us all a lift. I remember everyone running towards him and it gave me an adrenalin rush and got things going.”
Even so, inspired by Adam Wheater’s quick-fire 30 the visitors had 50 up in four overs, but Toby Roland-Jones (2-24) had him taken at mid-off by Patel before ripping out Sean Ervine’s middle stump first ball.
Patel himself then entered the fray immediately after the power play and when Shahid Afridi tried to take a second run to the spinner’s first ball he was run out by James Fuller’s arrow-like throw from the boundary edge.
And when Patel (2-27) struk twice in two balls in his next over Hampshire had plummeted from 55-1 to 77-7 and despite 46 from Liam Dawson there was no way back.
Patel admitted Roland-Jones’ double strike had liberated him to give the ball some flight and exploit some rare turn in the Uxbridge track.
“Toby’s two wickets gave me the confidence to bowl with a bit more air than I might have done,” he added. “It is always nice bowling to new batsmen. I think any spinner will tell you that.
“The wicket was turning in the second innings and it was amazing how it changed from first innings to second. So a turning wicket and you’ve got two new batsmen, that’s what you want. I tried to just do my thing and it came off today.”
Middlesex fans have suffered enough hurt in this tournament in recent years not to allow themselves to get carried away, but with Brendon McCullum arriving in time for Gloucestershire’s visit to Old Merchant Taylor’s next week and there are certainly grounds for optimism. Watch this space.