Warwickshire’s mission to attract bumper home crowds for their Twenty20 campaign this season has made an encouraging start with ticket-sales at record levels for this stage of the year.
The Bears’ T20 programme will begin at Edgbaston in three weeks time – Friday May 23 – against Yorkshire.
That will be the first of seven home games, including five on Friday nights, for the Bears in the revamped tournament.
The competition, which first entered English cricket in 2003, has been restructed by the England and Wales Cricket Board this year to try to shore up interest in the format, which has been flagging in some parts of the country.
Instead of the group games all being squeezed into a midsummer block, they will be played mostly on Friday evenings from May 23 to mid-July.
Then the group phase will be followed by the usual quarter-final stage before the finals day, which will again be staged at the Bears’ Edgbaston stadium this season, on August 23.
Warwickshire, who will compete in Twenty20 cricket this summer under the name Birmingham Bears at the request of Birmingham City Council, are eager to up their game in the format both on and off the field.
On it, they have consistently under-performed in the competition since reaching the inaugural finals day in 2003.
Off it, much effort is being made to attract more spectators to Edgbaston, a big stadium in which decent crowds, which would fill smaller grounds, can struggle to create much atmosphere.
Twenty20, with its a cocktail of sliding, scampering, shouting and slogging, is an acquired taste, cricket-wise, but in its early years in the English calendar it attracted big enough crowds (even a full house on one occasion for Worcestershire’s visit to Edgbaston) to generate a sense of occasion.
It is Warwickshire’s aim to get that atmosphere back and the early signs for this summer are promising, according to commercial director Gareth Roberts.
“As expected the derby game against the Worcestershire Rapids on Friday July 11 has proved the most popular fixture,” he said.
“But there have been very good sales for our first match against the Yorkshire Vikings with supporters keen to see the Bears take to the field in this new-look competition.
“We are keen to give the best value to supporters who book in advance and those who buy tickets now will save £7 from the matchday price on the gate.
“There is an even bigger discount of £19 if purchasing a ‘Double Whammy’ ticket for the first two games, both on Friday nights.”
Following the success of the West Midlands Mascot Derby last year, the Bears will hold it again at the first match against Yorkshire, when Warwickshire’s mascots Carmen and Hugh will compete with those of football clubs in a race on the outfield during the interval. There will also be live music from local bands.
On Thursday July 19, spectators will be able to watch England’s football World Cup clash with Uruguay on big screens at Edgbaston following the Bears’ game against Northamptonshire, in which Pakistan international Shoaib Malik will make his Bears debut
Bears chief executive Colin Povey is delighted to have acquired Malik’s services for six Twenty20 games.
And Povey has challenged Warwickshire’s players to come good in Twenty20 at last – and lift the trophy when finals day comes to Birmingham again this year.
It is high time that the Bears put their miserable recent T20 record behind them and make it all the way through to be guests at their own party when they host the finals day.
To do so this season would be a huge fillip for the club, both in terms of kudos and finance, insists the chief executive.
“T20 finals day has become THE day in the domestic calendar and for us to be there on our home turf would be a massive plus,” Povey said.
“It would be fantastic for us to have a full house at Edgbaston and for our boys to be there competing in that finals day.
“But you don’t get there just because you are desperate for it. You have to do the groundwork and perform on the days. The guys will be fired up to do that because there is a lot of excitement at the club around the revamped tournament.
“T20 is where the excitement and growth is and, to a large extent, where the money is. We are making great efforts off the field to attract new spectators to the games this summer.
“The bigger grounds traditionally have found it difficult to build support because spectators don’t neet to buy their tickets in advance – they can look out of the window at the weather and decide whether to go or not.
“Also, they know they won’t be locked out the way they would be at some of the smaller grounds.
“So those of us with bigger grounds have got to go the extra mile to make Twenty 20 appeal to people and we are pulling out all the stops to do that.
“It would great, for example, to see more of the many Asian cricket-lovers who live in Birmingham coming down to Edgbaston.
“We have seen plenty of here for the Champions Trophy so let’s see if we can convert some of that latent support into watching us in the T20.”
* Tickets for all of Warwickshire’s Twenty games can be purchased at www.edgbaston.com or by calling the club’s ticket hotline on 0844 847 1902.