Tedium of Twenty20 ends this weekend - at last

First published in Sport by

MANY decades ago, it was possible for sportsmen to be an England international at both cricket and football, before clubs became protective of their players and the spirit of professionalism meant that the sports seemed forever separated.

There have of course been the exceptions to this, such as Ian Botham's flirtation with Scunthorpe, but the double international days of C.B Fry are consigned to the history books.

However, had these days still existed and players happily existed in both sports, the likes of Fry could have played the start of the domestic Twenty20 tournament, disappeared off to the football World Cup and returned to find that the competition was still burbling aimlessly along and not one side had been eliminated.

The recent ECB meeting about the length of the tournament will hopefully see this partially rectified for next season, but that seems quite some way away.

The victory against Worcestershire, another team ambling along towards oblivion in this season's competition, will have barely registered on the collective national cricketing consciousness and there was an air, much like that of last season's Pro 40 tournament, something which we'd presumed to have seen the back of, that if there was a time to experiment, then this was it.

While Mark Stoneman has, on occasion, looked a slow scorer in comparison to Michael Di Venuto in the County Championship, to finally see him be given a limited overs game (aside from a fairly meaningless match against Bangladesh A in 2008), showed some great potential in batting aggressively at the top of the innings.

He also has the distinct advantage of fitting into the regularly discussed profile of the 'modern cricketer', having youth and fielding ability of his side, especially in a team which is trying to balance a few fielding passengers, either through old age or classical pace bowler lumbering.

While Ben Stokes has shown in fits and starts his immense talent, although not always in the Twenty20 competition, it was very encouraging to see him back in good form as the prospect of less tedious and more winnable competitions approach.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of the game was the continued attempt to try and rehabilitate Will Smith back into the first team squad.

From the outside, Smith has always seemed an amiable and articulate character who seems to be one of the few people to have captained a side to the County Championship without actually getting too much credit for it.

He's also seemed to be the archetypal confidence player, with the highs of 2008 seeming a lifetime ago.

But the utilisation of his hitherto occasional off-spin, this time to open the bowling, seems to be a deliberate attempt to on one level confound batsmen preparing themselves for Harmison-induced chin music, but also to justify his inclusion in the side where he'd realistically only expect to bat at nine.

Whether this is a long-term option in limited overs cricket remains to be seen, but whether out of a genuine belief that it can make a difference or an attempt to show Smith that he still has a place at the club, only time will tell.

When Durham's involvement in T20 inevitably trundles to a close for another against Northamptonshire on Sunday, it'll be with no great fanfare and with an eager eye being cast in the direction of the County Championship, the school holidays and a sense that the height of the summer is upon us.

For all concerned, it would seem that it really can't come quick enough.

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