London: Attendances at domestic cricket matches in England last year rose by 23 percent to 1.5 million, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced here.
Twenty20, pioneered as a professional sport by England's counties before gaining worldwide popularity at international level and in the lucrative Indian Premier League, led the way.
The expanded group match phase of a competition designed to bring in spectators who are at work during the day, saw a 25 percent increase in the number of matches with the total audience for 2008 recorded as 593,717; a 36 percent rise.
Crowds for the first-class County Championship were 30 percent up on 2007 and topped half a million in total for the first time since 2003, with Durham winning the title on the final weekend of matches.
But, in a further sign that established one-day cricket is losing ground to Twenty20, attendances for the 50-over Friends Provident Trophy were down by seven percent on those recorded in 2007.
"We are delighted to see the county game continue to grow across England and Wales," said ECB chief executive David Collier.
"Many counties have invested heavily in their facilities offering a vastly improved spectator experience which coupled with some thrilling cricket in 2008, ensures the fabric of our sport remains strong.
"However, the 'record' figures only relate to attendances in English cricket since the ECB replaced the now defunct Test and County Cricket Board as the English game's governing body in 1997.
Unlike football, where major club sides are wholly self-sufficient, domestic cricket around the world is effectively subsidised by an international programme which bankrolls the game at all levels.
In England, attendances for first-class matches - the proving ground for Test match cricket - have been on a largely downward trend since the years immediately after the end of the Second World War as a result of a huge reduction in fixtures, which has taken place while the international programme has been expanded, and changing social patterns.
During the postwar period huge crowds would flock to see Roses matches between Yorkshire and Lancashire while, in London, spectators at Lord's were captivated by the deeds of Middlesex duo Denis Compton and Bill Edrich.
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