Worcestershire Rapids have launched their Vitality Blast campaign this week and new Head Coach Kevin Sharp has seen the short format of the game evolve dramatically since he last occupied a similar role at Yorkshire 15 years ago.
The year 2003 saw T20 played in this country for the first time and it has developed massively since those initial days into the global attraction it has become circa 2018 with leagues all around the world.
Here Sharp looks back on those early days, the way the game has grown and assesses the chances of the Rapids in this summer’s competition in a question and answer session with the Worcestershire CCC website ahead of tonight’s home clash with Birmingham Bears (5.30pm start).
Question: The last time you were a Head Coach was in 2003 at Yorkshire – the first year of T20 cricket in England. How has the competition evolved?
Kevin Sharp: “Players skills levels have improved enormously. There is a lot more now attention paid now to improvisation, both with the bat and the ball.
“I think back in those days, no-one knew what to expect really. I can recall our first game at Headingley. It started at 5.30 and at 5.15 there weren’t many people in the ground and we thought it was going to be a bit of a flop crowd-wise.
“But by quarter to six, about 15 minutes after the start, the West Stand was absolutely full and there were about 10,000 people there.
“In terms of the way it is played, the skills levels, with the way the bowlers have worked on slower balls, yorkers, slower ball bouncers, cutters, all of those things have come on enormously.
“Then you think of the batters with the way they can reverse sweep now and all the dinks they play, and can play shots 360 degrees around the wicket.
“T20 has been the catalyst for players developing as rapidly as they have done.”
Question: Was it a bit of a novelty when it first was played all those years ago?
Kevin Sharp: “It was. I can remember having a practice match at Headingley in April on a green wicket and I think the scores were 102 played 101!
“The ball seamed around a lot and I know there was 40 dot balls in one innings. We sent a pinch hitter in, a lower order batsman to give it a crack, and he missed every ball.
“It was trial and error. It was in its infancy and no-one quite knew what to expect.”
Question: Now you have got specialists in T20 all around the world playing it?
Kevin Sharp: “It has evolved rapidly. T20 has become almost the focal point of world cricket really. There are big tournaments all around the world now and some players just play T20 cricket.
“Ten years ago, you probably would never have thought that but these things evolve and there are huge competitions everywhere.”
Question: Looking at the current Worcestershire Rapids batting line-up, it is very powerful?
Kevin Sharp: “It does – not only the overseas players now but our own players who have played a lot of one-day cricket and it looks quite scary on paper.
“I’m sure there will be one or two teams looking at that, one or two bowlers, hoping that our batting line-up doesn’t fire as it is capable of doing.
“We bat deep down and they are all capable of a major contribution and that is something to look forward to.”
Question: Every year people say we’ve not reached finals day but that can quickly change with a bit of luck and momentum?
Kevin Sharp: “It’s a fine line. I know that Worcestershire have been in three quarter-finals in recent years and been very near to finals day.
“I know we didn’t that well in the T20 last year but, when you look at some of the white ball cricket we’ve played, we’ve had two semi-finals in two years in the One-Day Cup.
“The team is capable, that is for sure.”
Question: Can the players take a lot of confidence from the One-Day Cup going into the Blast?
Kevin Sharp: “You’ve got to do. Winning is a habit just like losing is and if you are on a roll of playing successfully, then you’ve got some momentum.”
Question: Will the coaching staff be flexible in T20 like they were in the One-Day Cup?
Kevin Sharp: “Alan (Richardson) and Alex (Gidman) will have a very prominent role in this T20 campaign.
“They will play a leadership role with the team because, as we’ve explained before, they both have a lot of experience of white ball cricket.
“They are both tactically astute and I want to use their skills in this competition just like I did in the 50 over competition.
“We will be sharing the responsibilities. Alex goes off for his England involvement today (Thursday) so he won’t be at Old Trafford.
“But he and Alan will play a big part in the prep and de-brief of the games.”