But Jack Shutt could have been playing in front of one man and his dog in the most nondescript game on a club ground in Yorkshire, such was the ease with which he took to the pressure and expectation of making his first-team debut in one of domestic cricket’s biggest fixtures.
The 22-year-old off-spinner, born in Barnsley, returned 2-31 from his allotted four overs, his figures spoiled only by a final over that went for 17 runs as Glenn Maxwell and Dane Vilas, two of the tournament’s most destructive strokeplayers, upped the ante in the second half of Lancashire’s innings.
Otherwise, it was a richly impressive display that augured well for the future, Shutt removing Liam Livingstone and Steven Croft as Lancashire scored 170-6 after winning the toss, Yorkshire replying with 161-9 to lose an exciting match by nine runs.
With Yorkshire’s spin bowling resources depleted by the absence of World Cup winner Adil Rashid, who is resting until next week, and fellow leg-spinner Josh Poysden, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after fracturing his skull during net practice on Monday, Shutt was drafted in as second spinner to partner Dom Bess.
Bess it was who struck a ball back at Poysden in a freak accident that led to internal bruising and bleeding on the player’s brain, and although specialists have told the 27-year-old Poysden that he will make a full recovery, they have said that the process will take at least three months.
It was clearly not the way that Shutt would have chosen to break into the side, having been in and around the squad for some time now, but he seized his chance during a continuous spell from the Emerald Stand end after being brought on with the score standing at 60-1 after seven overs.
With a scuttling, coiled-spring approach to the crease that put one in mind of Azeem Rafiq – the former Yorkshire off-spinner – the tall, mousy-haired Shutt had Croft caught at long-on with his third ball and Livingstone held at long-off from his 11th delivery, impressing all with his composure and control.
On one of the hottest days since records began, with the temperature up in the high 30s, the players had somewhat incongruously taken to the field flanked by bursts of giant pyrotechnic flames. Under the circumstances, giant ice lollies might have been more appropriate, but there was no doubting the atmosphere and sense of occasion as these teams met for what was also the 200th T20 game played by Lancashire, the first county to reach that milestone.
The pitch was over to the West Stand side, where spectators fanned themselves in the oppressive heat. Lancashire’s innings was something of a curate’s egg.
It started slowly, only 11 runs arriving from the first two overs, and gathered momentum to the tune of 55 runs by the end of the six-over powerplay, Alex Davies the only casualty, caught behind as he charged at Jordan Thompson, who returned fine figures of 1-25 from his four overs.
Davies, Livingstone and Maxwell, the latter caught behind as he tried to hook Duanne Olivier, each chipped in with 25.
Only Vilas (43 from 24 balls with three sixes and three fours) made a particularly significant contribution, his innings ended by a brilliant piece of work from David Willey, who ran him out with a direct hit from cover as he tried to steal a single off Thompson.
Willey conceded only three runs from the penultimate over, with Lancashire scoring only 46 from the last six overs as Yorkshire pegged them back, Willey also having a hand in the final wicket when Josh Bohannon picked him out on the leg-side boundary.
Adam Lyth and Tom Kohler-Cadmore fell inside the first nine balls of Yorkshire’s reply, but Willey and Harry Brook added 61 in eight overs before Willey holed out on the mid-wicket boundary off leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, catcher Bohannon turning to the East Stand crowd in fist-pumping celebration.
Willey made 32 from 25 balls and Brook 30, but was fourth out at 97 when he skied Richard Gleeson to backward-point.
It would have been 98-5 in the 13th over, but Nicholas Pooran was dropped at long-off on nine by Croft off Gleeson, a bad miss which looked even worse when the West Indian deposited Parkinson for six over long-on. Pooran struck Parkinson for two more leg-side sixes in his final over, which left Yorkshire needing 41 from the last four overs.
But Gary Ballance was run-out by a direct hit from Gleeson at cover, and Pooran bowled by Mahmood for 43 from 31 balls, ending Yorkshire’s challenge despite a valiant effort from Thompson.