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Cutting the Mustard as a Twenty20 specialist

Durham's captain is just one of many county pros playing the shortest form of game all over world. He talks to Jon Culley

While the riches of the Indian Premier League remain frustratingly out of reach for all but a handful of top English players, the expanding international Twenty20 circuit is becoming a useful source of employment, paradoxically, for county cricketers for whom the £1.3m contract Kevin Pietersen has with Delhi Daredevils will never be anything but a fantasy.

Current England Test players James Anderson, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Ravi Bopara all failed to attract a bid in the 2012 IPL auction. Eoin Morgan is the only other member of Andrew Strauss's line-up taking part, with Stuart Broad's involvement for King's XI Punjab now curtailed because of the Nottinghamshire man's calf injury.

Yet Lancashire duo Paul Horton and Tom Smith, Surrey's Tom Maynard, Jason Roy and Rory Hamilton-Brown, Somerset all-rounder Peter Trego, Durham captain Phil Mustard and the young Essex batsman Adam Wheater were among more than two dozen instantly recognisable county cricketers who were able to supplement their salaries playing Twenty20 cricket in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

The Stanbic Bank 20 series final in Harare in December was won by a Mountaineers side for whom 29-year-old wicketkeeper Mustard scored 56 from 31 balls, beating a Mashonaland Eagles team featuring Trego and Hamilton-Brown as well as other familiar names in Essex's Ryan ten Doeschate and Northamptonshire's Andrew Hall.

Mustard also reached the final of the Bangladesh Premier League with Barisal Burners, although he finished on the losing side against a Dhaka Gladiators line-up that included Kent's former Pakistan bowler Azhar Mahmood, now a British citizen.

Trego was another who moved on from Zimbabwe to the BPL, which also featured Nottinghamshire's Andre Adams, Surrey's Maynard and Roy, Alexei Kervezee of Worcestershire and Kent's Darren Stevens.

Mustard believes the shortest form of the game will offer more opportunities for lesser-known names to pick up a winter bonus, as well as to sharpen their skills.

"For me, playing in the two tournaments has been a really valuable experience," he said. "I felt that if I could play against some world-class players it would help me become a better player in Twenty20, and maybe help me contribute more for Durham in that form of the game.

"Zimbabwe was about getting my foot in the door and while the standard was not so high as Bangladesh there are a lot of talented young players emerging in Zimbabwe and the number of English-based players made it a decent competition.

"It went really well for me in that we won the tournament and with that on my CV I was able to get a team in Bangladesh. There I was able to play alongside world-class Twenty20 players in Chris Gayle and Brad Hodge, and if I can pass on some of the knowledge I was able to pick up hopefully it will be helpful to the lads at Durham.

"I can see more English players wanting to become involved. There are quite a few tournaments now and apart from the financial incentives it is a good opportunity to keep ticking over during the winter, especially for players who are not involved in international cricket.

"Financially it was OK without being a fortune. There is not a lot of money in Zimbabwe but there are a lot of people working hard to put the country back on the map in cricketing terms. And if you have a really good competition, your value goes up and that's where you can cash in, although for me at the moment it is just about getting experience.

"Winning the Twenty20 here is always a big target for Durham and I want to improve my own game, learning how to turn 40s and 50s into hundreds. I didn't get a hundred but I did get a couple of 80s. Overall I had a pretty consistent winter."

Durham have made finals day only once since the domestic Twenty20 Cup was launched in 2003, despite a series of big-name signings including Shaun Pollock, Ross Taylor, Albie Morkel, David Warner and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

This year they have lined up South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs and Australian pace bowler Mitchell Johnson which Mustard is excited about, even though his initial focus is on the County Championship which they open at home to Nottinghamshire today.

"Gibbs and Johnson are both top-class players and with Paul Collingwood back from England and Ben Stokes fit again we have a squad with enough depth and quality to challenge on all fronts."