If anything summed up the good and bad in the Northern Cricket Union’s brand of Twenty20 cricket, it was Wednesday night’s thrilling contest at Wallace Park.
Craig Ervine, Lisburn’s Zimbabwean-born batsman, produced a batting masterclass as his team narrowly failed to chase down the target set by Civil Service North. The left-hander crashed seven sixes, including two that must rank alongside the biggest ever seen at the famous old ground.
In all Ervine hit 68 from just 36 balls and it was entertainment that could easily have graced any cricket ground in the country, or in England for that matter.
There was one rather large problem however. There was next to no-one at Wallace Park watching.
The NCU have been searching in vain to find the right formula for the shortest and most appealing brand of the game.
Firstly, credit where credit is due, the recent move to a Friday night final has been a success.
A healthy crowd watched Waringstown beat Instonians at Belmont in 2012 while North Down’s win over Lisburn at a sun-drenched Lawn last July was an undoubted highlight of the summer.
What is not working is midweek Twenty20 cricket played by sometimes reluctant cricketers in front of one man and his dog.
Twenty20 cricket has the potential to pull in extra spectators but not on a week night.
If cricket is going to be played on any evening then a Friday is by far the best option.
This is the route taken by the ECB in the new Twenty20 Blast in England where initial impressions are that it has worked a treat.
Peter Shields, the former North Down captain, advocates revolutionising the NCU’s Twenty20 set-up.
As he pointed out, it’s almost ludicrous that when North Down entertained Instonians a fortnight ago at The Green, again a game that went right to the final over, it was their only scheduled Twenty20 home fixture of the entire summer.
Shields advocates group games moving to a Friday night or indeed to weekend days when three clubs could be based at the one ground, with three matches taking place between say 11am and 7pm.
Three sets of supporters would contribute three sets of revenue. It’s a no-brainer and realistic now that clubs in the NCU’s top flight play just 14 league matches each.
Such a move to Twenty20 festival days would perhaps leave the future of the Ulster Cup shrouded in uncertainty, but why not change it to a Twenty20 format instead of its current 40 overs.
The Ulster Cup has much to commend it and it’s important that NCU and North West clubs continue to do battle outside of the Irish Cup. But equally a Twenty20 format would make more sense with 40-over cricket largely irrelevant on the world stage.
More innings like Ervine’s can only increase the appeal of what remains a minority sport in Northern Ireland but there is no point in it if no-one is watching. Let’s see more of Twenty20 but at better times of the summer.