Last night heralded the opening game of the season for the Yorkshire Vikings in the T20 Blast, where they faced the Leicestershire Foxes at a picturesque Headingley. It also happened to be my first direct experience of the shorter version of the game.
What was immediately noticeable was the extent to which the club tried to engage the fans. Messages of support and friendship adorned the scoreboard during breaks in play, while the big screen allowed fans to enjoy a few seconds of fame. Dance Cam and Kiss Cam were also out in force (thankfully I was watching in solitude), with the responses to these being mixed. The crowds were far larger than I had imagined, with an ethnically diverse crowd present, as well as a greater proportion of kids and teenagers than in the Test format.
Onto the match, and it initially seemed as if Yorkshire’s bowlers, particularly England international Tim Bresnan, were keeping things fairly tight, limiting the Leicestershire openers to singles and 2s, with the occasional 4s and 6s sprinkled in. However, the East Midlanders were starting to sense that they needed to play a more swashbuckling brand of cricket and take the game by the scruff of the neck, emulating the attitude of Leicester’s victorious footballers. Knocks from Ben Raine (48) and Kevin O’Brien (39) stood out and laid the foundations for a solid score, while Lewis Hill also produced an eye-catching cameo (24no), which included three strokes that sailed over the boundary. One particularly fearsome shot landed in the satchel of a man who had just gone for a pint a few rows in front of me, with his young son eagerly recounting the event upon his return.
The target of 175 was always going to be difficult to catch, a task made harder as efficient bowling from Leicestershire restricted the Vikings to a run rate of just a few per over, and although it picked up slightly, it was ultimately too little, too late. Other than Will Rhodes, who notched 45, no-one else was sufficiently assertive at the crease, with chances to grab two runs routinely turned down for singles, in what was an overly-cautious approach. However, this only partly explains Leicestershire’s resounding 54-run victory. Their bowling was very precise, and they bowled out the hosts with little more than an over to spare.
Overall, the experience of watching T20 was a positive one. There did not seem to be much aggression or hostility from the fans and there was a more tangible relationship between the fans and the players. This was most obviously seen when younger fans approached fielders at the boundary rope asking for selfies. In between deliveries, the players obliged. Despite the comprehensive defeat, the players were also happy to sign autographs afterwards. While some may bemoan ‘‘selfie culture’’ at times (myself included), it is good to see that the Yorkshire Vikings recognise that engaging their younger fanbase is essential to increasing the exposure of the sport and embracing people irrespective of age or background. The fireworks at the end of the contest were spectacular; hopefully there can be a few more on the pitch from Yorkshire’s batsmen in the coming matches.
For anyone interested in going to a match, tickets for students are at the very affordable price of £5 (even on the day). The next home game is on 17/06 against Nottinghamshire Outlaws, with the first ball to be bowled at 7pm.
Image: Daniel Smith/Getty Images Europe