Group-by-group guide to the Twenty20 Cup
Wednesday 11 June 2008
Historically Surrey have been the outstanding side of the group, winning the inaugural tournament in 2003 and qualifying for the finals day on four occasions. They will face strong opposition primarily from Kent, the reigning champions, and Sussex, the strongest county in the country.
Twenty20 is all about scoring runs and Sussex, in the shape of Luke Wright and Murray Goodwin, had the two leading run scorers in last seasons tournament. The pair struck two of the five Twenty20 hundreds hit in 2007. The bowling is excellent too with Mushtaq Ahmed and James Kirtey showing that experience is vital.
Kent will be strengthened by the presence of Justin Kemp, whose power hitting will supplement the more orthodox batting of Robert Key and Joseph Denly, who both had excellent tournaments last year. Simon Cook has enjoyed Twenty20 and Azhar Mahmood is highly effective at the end of an innings when yorkers are required.
Surrey have signed the former Pakistan all-rounder, Abdul Razzaq, to bolster their side and the evergreen Mark Ramprakash will be hoping to have another strong showing. The tournament will be a welcome distraction for Ramprakash, who currently sits on 99 first-class hundreds. James Benning has another chance to push his credentials too.
The retirement of Shane Warne, although he asked to miss Twenty20 cricket before the big money arrived, leaves Hampshire short of inspiration whilst England's one-day series deprives Essex of Ravi Bopara, the teams gun player. Middlesex have a lot to prove but the 'Turn Lord's Pink' match against Surrey, where pink shirts will be sold to raise awareness and funds for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, should make an excellent spectacle.
To qualify - Sussex, Kent.
This group is the most successful and therefore the strongest in the tournament. It has provided more teams for Finals Day (eight), and more finalists (four), than any other. With all the money that is now available it will be hoping the trend continues. Leicestershire have twice triumphed and they remain a competitive team but it is hard to believe they will oust the likes of Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Durham.
Michael Vaughan will make his eagerly awaited Twenty20 debut for Yorkshire and it will be interesting to see whether the financial benefits available bring out the best in him. Darren Gough will be desperate to pay a full role too. Dazzler loves the big stage and he will want to show audiences what they will miss when he retires at the end of the season.
Andrew Flintoff will return at some stage, and the sight of 'Big Fred' thundering in at Old Trafford should get them flocking in. In Stuart Law, Lou Vincent, Glenn Chapple and Dominic Cork Lancashire have plenty of other experienced players too, defying the view that Twenty20 is a young persons game.
Durham continue to make progress and, like Leicestershire, seem to benefit from an excellent team spirit. Nottinghamshire appear more suited to the longer game but in Samit Patel they have a young all-rounder who should interest the Indian Premier League. Derbyshire will have done extremely well to reach the Quarter Finals.
To qualify - Lancashire, Durham.
Midlands/Wales, West Group
Somerset won the Twenty20 Cup in 2005 and Gloucestershire reached last years final but this group has had only limited success in this form of cricket. Somerset will be the side to beat. Under the captaincy of Australia's Justin Langer they will not be short of enthusiasm and the team wil contain several star players.
Twenty20 was made for batsmen ike Marcus Trescothick and Ian Backwell, thunderous hitters of a cricket ball. Langer gives it a bit of tap too. James Hildreth is a class act too and this quartet should score hundreds of runs at Taunton. At the IPL Glenn McGrath showed that a good old 'un can cut it with the young guns and Andy Caddick , fitness permitting, will be hoping to do the same.
Warwickshire, under Ashley Giles, are going through a period of transition, whilst the confidence of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire must be low, neither of whom have made a good start to the season. Glamorgan have improved and Herschelle Gibbs could prove to be an excellent signing. The South African is destructive with the bat and brilliant in the field.
Northamptonshire have five rebel players, cricketers who played in this years Indian Cricket League, on their staff and could be dangerous. Everybody knows how dangerous Lance Klusener can be whilst Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall are very capable all-rounders. Johan van der Wath is a good cricketer too.
To qualify - Somerset, Northamptonshire.
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