Sussex are back at 'Tea 20' Finals Day - and I can't wait

Can Sid the Shark perform on the big occasion? Picture by Phil Westlake
Can Sid the Shark perform on the big occasion? Picture by Phil Westlake

To misquote arguably the greatest film of all time: “As far back I can remember, I always wanted to go to T20 Finals Day.”

Ever since its inaugural tournament in 2003, the Twenty20 Cup has always been an exciting, exhilarating competition, culminating in a wonderful showpiece finals day.

One Saturday night in 2015 when Lancashire Lightning were beating the Northants Steelbacks by 13 runs, I said to my wife Amanda: ‘I’d love to go to finals day one year."

Then on April 9, 2016 (my birthday), I opened a present which was a box containing 20 teabags.

It took me a while to solve this cryptic clue - Sherlock Holmes I am not - but it soon struck me - Tea 20...T20. I was going to Edgbaston for finals day.

All I hoped for now was a side that meant something to me to be there. Kent (where I was born), Hampshire (where I grew up) or Sussex (where I live) - I would have settled for any of them.

Unfortunately, this did not happen for me as all three teams failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.

So really I was just hoping for county from the Southern section to qualify for the semis. Again, fortune was not on my side as all four sides who qualified from the northern section - Northants Steelbacks, Nottinghamshire Outlaws, Durham Jets and Yorkshire Vikings - all made it to the semis. Who were we going to support? Well, Northants was the most southern team, so the Steelbacks it was.

The bonus with this was the big names who were going to be there. Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Alex Hales, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Andre Russell and many more.

Not only was it my first finals day, it was my first trip to Edgbaston, and what a great venue for it.

Arriving at the ground, we started seeing all fans arriving in their weird and wonderful outfits, a few Where’s Wallys, cops, robbers, donkeys, very colourful suits, they were all there.

The forecast for the day wasn’t good but when we (wife Amanda and son Noah) arrived it was bright sunshine.

The first thing we did was have our photo taken with the trophy and former England captain Michael Vaughan. I asked him who he thought was going to win. He said: “Watch out for those Steelbacks.”

At points during the day, the cricket is almost secondary. Sitting in the family stand, we were opposite the Eric Hollies stand. This is a fun stand to watch.

The cops chase the robbers, the beer snakes span whole rows, beach balls make their way up and down the stands and then there’s the singing.

It’s funny how everyone knows the words to Sweet Caroline when they are at a cricket ground.

The noise and sights in that stand alone help finals day what it is.

And then there’s Bumble. The man has more charisma in his left toe than than most have in their whole body.

Whether it’s singing a bit of Johnny Cash or leading the mascot race, everyone hangs onto his every word. If David Lloyd wasn’t there, then what would be the point of finals day?

The mascot race is joy to behold. Seeing Sid the Shark battle it out with the 17 other mascots is the perfect tonic to the lull between matches.

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Dizzy keeping us calm ahead of Finals Day
But back to the cricket. The two strongest sides on paper were poor on the day. In the first semi, Notts lost to Northants by 8 runs.

Ben Duckett was awesome to watch, hitting 84 from 47 balls and Andre Russell promised much in his 18-ball 39 but it wasn’t enough as the Steelbacks made it through.

In the second semi, Yorkshire were defeated by Durham, who had Ben Stokes and Mark Wood in scintillating form. Stokes hit three sixes in a 36-ball 56 while Wood took 4-25.

Because of the weather, Durham skipper Paul Collingwood had no time to celebrate as he had to toss up for the final.

The final had two great batting performances. Keaton Jennings hit 88 in 55 balls as Durham posted 153-8 before Josh Cobb lead the Steelbacks home with 80 from 43 balls.

That Michael Vaughan knew what he was talking about.

The majority of the final was played in driving rain, but nobody cared. I didn’t, Noah didn’t, everyone in the Hollies stand didn’t, Bumble didn’t and those Steelback fans certainly didn’t.

T20 finals day is entertainment in its purest form. There’s singing, drinking, costumes, elite level sport, individual brilliance and Sid the Shark. It really is The Greatest Show.

Sussex enjoyed this experience in 2009 - won’t it be great to see the Sharks as part of that show again this year?