19th June, England v South Africa, 09:30 GMT
It is arguably the biggest day in the English summer for county cricket, when Twenty20 cricket returns to its birthplace as Edgbaston plays host to a finals day that will be packed with thrills and spills to mark the climax of the Twenty20 Cup.
When Twenty20 cricket was first launched back in 2004, no one could have expected the success and wealth that the shortened format of the game would bring to the game of cricket. However, with all the riches being handed out in other tournaments around the world, it is still the original Twenty20 Cup that gets the adrenalin flowing.
This year’s tournament has a mix of the form teams and the underdogs in the finals. Sussex have proved their worth as a limited overs side this year reaching the final of the Friend’s Provident Trophy earlier this season and Kent have been champions of this tournament in the past. But the other two semi finalists, Northamptonshire and Somerset, have come through the tournament relatively unnoticed without an abundance of household names, instead with players such as Zander De Bruyn and Johannes Van Der Wath doing the business for their ‘un-fancied’ counties.
However, for one of those ‘dark-horse’ counties, Northamptonshire, winning the competition could bring disappointment as well as glory. The highly anticipated Champion’s League, a follow on from the Indian Premier League, has stated that because Northants have fielded ICL affiliated players (Van Der Wath, Andrew Hall and Nicky Boje) they will not be able to take up their place in the profitable tournament if they were to win on Saturday. Although, I can’t imagine that will stop the Northants squad wanting to win more than anything.
Northants have been somewhat of a surprise package in this year’s Twenty20 Cup. They finished top of the Midlands/Wales/West group losing just two matches in doing so, seeing off most of their competition, however one of the rare losses they suffered was to fellow semi finalists Somerset. This may have some baring on the result if they were to face each other in the final.
In thequarter finals, Northants played against Hampshire who had recently triumphed over Sussex in the Friend’s Provident Trophy and were many people’s pick to do the limited overs double this season. However, Northants outplayed them with Andrew Hall starring with both bat and ball to book his side’s place in finals day.
Northamptonshire’s opponents in the second of the semi finals will be Kent, who won the competition back in 2007. Rob Key’s men know what it takes to make it to the finale of this tournament and therefore could well be favourites going into the semi finals.
Kent finished top of the South group and outclassed an in form Durham side in the quarter finals. They will have to recreate some of the form showed against Durham if they are to win the tournament this year, but with star names such as Wayne Parnell and Joe Denly, they will be a tough challenge for anyone.
The opening semi final pits Somerset against bookies favourites Sussex. Somerset are only in the semi finals courtesy of a bowl out in the quarters against a strong Lancashire side who were the best qualifiers from the group stages.
However, it has not been pure luck that has brought the West Country side to finals day. Their much vaunted batting lineup, which boasts the talents of Marcus Trescothick and Justin Langer to name just two, has been in prolific form and will strike fear into any of the country’s bowlers. However, it has been the lesser known names of Alfonso Thomas and Zander De Bruyn who have excelled in this year’s Twenty20 Cup.
De Bruyn is one of the leading run scorers still left in the competition and he’s also taken four useful wickets at an average of 22.75. Thomas was one of the heroes of the bowl out as he helped his side win that contest 5-1 and has taken 16 wickets at 16.46 to lead the Somerset bowling stakes. If the stars of the Somerset team and the likes of De Bruyn and Thomas could hit form together then their team could well be an outside bet for the title.
Their opponents Sussex must put the disappointment of losing the Friend’s Provident Trophy behind them if they are to succeed in the Twenty20 Cup. Over the last few years, Sussex have built a formidable one day unit and have had some remarkable performances in the shortest form of the game. They finished second in the South group behind Kent and brushed aside Warwickshire in the quarter finals with a Rory Hamilton-Brown inspired performance.
Ed Joyce has been in superlative form for his new county and looks to have revitalized his career after his move, whilst England one day specialist Luke Wright looks to be coming into fine form with both bat and ball in readiness for the finals day. They will be looking to their international class players to fire if they are going to challenge for the title. However one England player that will be absent is Matt Prior who has been withdrawn from the Sussex squad at the request of the ECB ahead of the all important Oval Test match.
It is set to be a very competitive finals day this year, with all four counties capable of lifting the trophy. No doubt it will provide the entertainment and drama that defines Twenty20 cricket, but no one would want to call such a tight contest.
© Cricket World 2009