You could be forgiven for thinking that a whole new West Midland sporting odyssey is about to get under way on Friday night here in Birmingham – with the debut of a fledgling cricket team on the sacred turf of Edgbaston.
Step forward the Birmingham Bears, who take on the Yorkshire Vikings in the new NatWest T20 Blast competition.
But what about dear old Warwickshire, who have been playing at Edgbaston for 128 years, ever since they entertained the MCC in June 1886? Has anybody told them about this new team?
I jest of course. Birmingham Bears are, in another guise, Warwickshire, a nifty new moniker for the Bears as they prepare for cricket’s most popular format at county level.
It’s no great surprise, really. Twenty-20 has long gone in for gimmicks to pull in the punters to the noble game’s most successful new incarnation of recent years, whether it be dancing girls, hot tubs, fireworks or the obligatory music to celebrate fours and sixes.
The stuffed shirts who still stick to tradition, whether at Lord’s, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge, or elsewhere, may not like it – but Twenty-20 cricket is here to stay, and has more than earned its place at the game’s top table.
The numbers speak for themselves. Last Friday night around 11,000 people turned up at Trent Bridge to see Notts take on Lancashire.
They’d be lucky to get a few hundred through the doors at many county championship days over the course of the summer.
Some days are more suited to the old one man and a dog cliche, but comparisons, in this context, are pretty meaningless.
The county championship is an acquired taste, a staple diet of dyed in the wool cricket fans whose love of this most cerebral of all sports transcends fashion, the profit motive and other such ephemeral vulgarities.
It is a game redolent of Grace and Jessop, CB Fry and Ranjitsinhji, John Arlott and Neville Cardus, and all those ghosts of the past who once performed amazing feats on the lush turf of Victorian England.
But that was then. Test Match cricket could not survive without the dear old championship, which acts as a feeder system and finishing school for the national side.
Equally and more critically, the championship could not endure without Test Match cricket, which subsidises the county game, often to an alarming extent.
Twenty20, on the other hand, has earned its place in the sun (or rain). It helps pay the bills, allowing the counties to pull in decent crowds for once, and even guarantees a result (unless it rains).
I have been hopelessly addicted to cricket for nearly 50 years, ever since I first wandered through the gates of Trent Bridge in August 1967 to see Notts take on Yorkshire one August Bank Holiday.
I was 11 years old and can remember to this day the thrill of seeing the likes of Yorkshire’s Freddie Trueman and Geoff Boycott, Bolus and Forbes of Notts, on the Trent Bridge turf.
If that makes me an unashamed traditionalist, then that’s fine by me. Cricket needs its traditions, its links to the golden age, its ghosts and spirits.
It’s not motor racing, snooker or darts, still less football – it’s cricket, the summer game, a nostalgic throwback as much as a 21st century sport.
Conversely it’s impossible to ignore the impact of Twenty20. It’s the fast food burger to the fillet steak of the Test Match, a fun night out, with all the thrills and spills of an evening on the dodgems.
Not to be taken too seriously, but still a cricketing feast, of sorts.
But there are some traditions that must remain sacrosanct. And the Birmingham Bears move is a grave mistake, a howler of unfathomable proportions, at least to those who love this quirkiest and most traditional of games.
It’s a well-intentioned attempt by Colin Povey and a few other suits up at Edgbaston to market the club, to enhance its appeal to sponsors and the money men.
But it won’t work, and will only alienate anybody who ever cared about Warwickshire CCC.
County cricket followers are an odd breed, part anorak, part quasi-religious zealot, part one-eyed fanatic, with some very odd habits. They don’t easily embrace change, and can see through the false and the contrived.
And the Birmingham Bears rebranding (horrible word) is as false as it is contrived. It takes no account – indeed shamelessly ignores – all those devoted fans from far-flung parts of the county, from Stratford, Leamington, Warwick, Rugby, Nuneaton and elsewhere who have been making the pilgrimage to Edgbaston for decades.
Warwickshire CCC is far more than Birmingham, even if its Edgbaston headquarters is firmly within city boundaries.
The cricket team represents the august county of Warwickshire, and has done since its formation in 1882.
It is not a disposable city franchise, to be restyled to suit the times. It is part of the very fabric of the county from which it bears (no pun intended) its name, and the fabric of the region.
To limit it, in name at least, to the city of Birmingham is to diminish its history and to insult the allegiances and loyalties of its many thousands of followers.
The occasional father may buy the odd Birmingham Bears coloured strip to delight his young son or daughter but I would guess that the new name will be quietly dumped after a season or two.
Birmingham Bears kits may become collectors’ items for lovers of cricketing memorabilia.
They do love their tradition in these parts.