It is easy for a coach to say he wants his team to enjoy their cricket. So easy, in fact, that almost all of them do so. It is harder, though, for him to mean it and harder still for professional cricketers to take him at his word. It was even tougher, maybe, on Saturday evening had the finalists in this year's Vitality Blast recalled that amid all the bobbery surrounding T20 Finals Day, the eventual winners collected £280,000, the runners-up £135,000. Yet the final was contested by two teams whose enjoyment of their cricket was evident in everything they did.
We have to be careful here. When the Sussex coach, Jason Gillespie, tells his players to enjoy their cricket, he is not advocating cheery indifference to whatever happens, nor, we can bet, does he greet sheer sloppiness with a moon-faced smile. It would be interesting to know his reaction to Phil Salt's dozy run-out in the final against Worcestershire. Yet when Luke Wright was looking forward to the climax of this year's Blast on Friday afternoon, his words about Salt, in particular, are worth recalling.
"With Phil Salt you just let him go," he said. "He could get out first ball or he could end up smacking a hundred tomorrow. He's a matchwinner…That chilled fun side of it exactly how I want to play my cricket and I think when people are happy they seem to play better. In T20 you have to risk a lot and be brave enough to go out and have a go. If Salty wants to go and hit the first ball for six tomorrow but he gets out doing it, that's just the way it is. We'll pat him on the back and we'll go again."
The serious point here - one that professional coaches would develop usefully - is that if you enjoy playing your sport, you are actually giving yourself a better chance of succeeding. Such an approach may be contrasted with the rather grim axiom that you will enjoy a game if you win it. That is an approach often espoused in some northern counties and it places the cart before the horse. It appeared present in Lancashire's run-chase against Worcestershire in the semi-final. The batsmen in that suddenly distant morning seemed haunted by the possibility of failure; there was little evidence of the natural ability so many of them possessed. And so they lost.
"You did not need to be in Australia last winter to understand that Moeen Ali was not enjoying his cricket; yet the skipper's joy was evident in almost every aspect of his play on Finals' Day...The revival in Moeen's form has been one of the themes of the summer"
That analysis gives nothing like sufficient credit to Worcestershire's bowlers, of course, or to Ben Cox's fearless assault on Toby Lester's final over. Yet Cox's approach was fearless because he did not fear anything. He was playing a game. And after mastering the skills required to flummox batsmen, Pat "knuckle-ball" Brown enjoyed showing them off. Such approaches come from the top. You did not need to be in Australia last winter to understand that Moeen Ali was not enjoying his cricket; yet the skipper's joy was evident in almost every aspect of his play on Finals' Day as he made 41 in each innings and took five wickets for 46 runs in eight overs. The revival in Moeen's form has been one of the themes of the summer.
Brazen enjoyment is particularly fitting on this day at Edgbaston. The whole occasion is preposterous. It is also tiring, faintly deranged and further over the top than The Jeremy Kyle Show. Yet it has become part of the cricket season for thousands of people, many of whom also appreciate the four-day stuff. Of course the Kiss Cam is embarrassing; of course the Scatter Blast sounds like a method of dispersing an unruly mob. But those who are not prepared to enter into the spirit of the thing would be better not attending. In a way, that includes the cricketers, too. Their seasons are judged in the main by their performances in the County Championship but their summers would be a lesser thing without the possibility of appearing in this Birmingham burlesque with its floodlights, its congregational choruses, its fancy dress and even its mascot race.
Yet this shortest of cricket's formats has also become the most analysed. Within moments of the final being completed people were noting its statistical oddities and some of them were very odd indeed. Others were more obvious. For example, Sussex became the first team from the South Group to reach the final since Surrey in 2013 but could not become the first to break the North's dominance of the Blast since Hampshire in 2012. Worcestershire became only the second team in the last eight finals to win the trophy when batting second.
Mere writers, meanwhile, are left with their images: the Worcestershire players rushing out to greet Cox at the moment of victory; Moeen hanging back but still accidentally copping one on the nose from an overjoyed Daryl Mitchell, who, at the age of 33, had won his first major trophy; the sight of the Worcestershire players offering a public rendition of their victory song in front of their supporters.
And, yes, Kevin Sharp, who a year ago could not have dreamed he would be doing his present job. Then he was an attendant lord, one that could swell a team photograph, start a net or two. Now he is the coach of one of the season's three major trophy winners. And he will, no doubt, have appreciated the words of, Alec Stewart, his counterpart at Surrey, who as his own players celebrated the title, praised Worcestershire's cricket and took time out on Thursday evening to say they were doing things the right way by bringing on their own young players and giving them the chance to enjoy their sport.
Let us return to another fine coach and to a captain who managed to transcend the self-policed optimism of last Friday afternoon. "It's easy to put too much pressure on the day and I've told the lads to enjoy it," said Wright. "Jason Gillespie has helped us to do that and I think that's why we've had so much success. The quarter-final was the most relaxed game I've ever played in really. Dizzy was so chilled in the build-up and he's the same now."
"Yeah, but you lost," the critics will smirk. They will have missed the point. Again.