On a warm and sunny day at Edgbaston and in front of a crowd of around 15,000, the 2023 Vitality Blast season began with back-to-back matches. Derbyshire played against Lancashire in the heat of afternoon before the Bears took on Yorkshire as the sun went down and the floodlights slowly took over.
The results? Lancashire chased down a respectable Derbyshire total of 179-5 to win by four wickets with four balls remaining; and the Bears rattled up 200 before bowling Yorkshire out in the last over for 166.
Entertaining though the cricket was, it was even more interesting to observe and reflect on this new venture – a double header to launch the Vitality Blast and the white ball English season.
Warwickshire Chief Executive Stuart Cain has explained the reasoning behind the changed start to the Blast in a letter to members:
“This idea came from the commercial team at Edgbaston. With the international schedule changing, the traditional early season Test Match that used to remind people that the cricket season had arrived has gone. Last year, this meant that the Vitality Blast was upon us before many people realised that cricket had started. So, attendances did dip a bit at the start of 2022.
To address this, we worked with the ECB, Sky and Derbyshire to create ‘Blast Off’ as a way of kicking off the Vitality Blast in style, treating it in the same way we do Finals Day. We hope to develop this idea further in coming years to create another sell-out T20 event, cementing Edgbaston’s reputation as the spiritual home of T20 cricket.”
How well did it work?
Well, in terms of creating a sell-out event to rival Finals Day, this was a start; but 15,000 fans in a Stadium that holds 10,000 or so more than that is not a sell-out. And Warwickshire and Derbyshire members got in free, so the event was nothing like the revenue generator that Finals Day has become. But as a starter, it will probably be deemed a success.
Although some spectators clearly only stayed for the match in which their county took part, a high proportion did seem to be there for both matches. Also, although, for better or worse, the Hollies Stand never quire reached the fever pitch of drunken revelry that features on Finals Day, it was clearly not just your average T20 Day.
The spectator mix included serious cricket watchers, children learning (hopefully) to love the game and inebriated folk in fancy dress who probably couldn’t tell a yorker from a googly. But somehow, it all seemed to work.
On the whole the behind the scenes staff at Edgbaston did a good job. Gary Barwell and his team produced a good (hybrid) cricket pitch – maybe not spin friendly but giving a bit to both batters and seam bowlers alike. Stewards were in evidence but not obtrusive or obstreperous. There were so many food and drink outlets that queues were manageable.
The various mascots were in evidence around the ground and seemed happy to engage with spectators and there was generally a very jovial atmosphere.
To be sure, there is a problem with scoreboards at Edgbaston. Although there are three screens, there was a time during the Derbyshire/Lancashire match when none of them were working and it took until well into the second match before they were all functioning. Stuart Cain has acknowledged the problem in advance of the day though without being able to offer a short term solution:
“Concerns were raised about the quality of the big screen. We are doing what we can with the screen as it does need replacing, but this is part of the [ground] re-development so it would not make sense to spend a six-figure sum now, only to have to replace it in a few years time. However, I understand people’s concerns and we will do what we can with the available equipment.”
Will the whole endeavour be repeated next year? Based on the overall positive feedback from the inaugural event, it seems likely. We might even have two events at different locations and on consecutive days – one for the North Group and one for the South.
In the meantime, let us give thanks for the sunshine that blessed the day.
Although Derbyshire and Yorkshire supporters may have gone home disappointed with the match results, imagine the joy of those dedicated Lancashire supporters who got to see two matches in the day, one which their team won and a second in which Yorkshire lost.