Huge crowds and pots of gold put Somerset in unfamiliar territory

It's a far cry from Taunton as county side seek solid start in India's cash-crazy tournament against Chargers today.
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Champions League will turn the world of cricket upside down, so they say, but for Somerset things are already changing.

The West Country side become the first English team to play in this latest Twenty20 competition when they face Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad today and the atmosphere – if predictions of a 40,000 crowd are to be believed – should be somewhat different from that normally experienced at Taunton.

But while big crowds are thrilling (Somerset's home support has never amounted to more than an fifth of that number, even if they are far from the meekest cricket-watchers on the circuit), the financial rewards on offer in India are rather more arresting. A combined pot of £3.7m means no side will go home unrewarded, but Somerset will have their eyes on the £1.6m winners' purse. That may be relative peanuts in the world of Premier League football but, given the County Champions receive just £500,000, it is serious cash for the summer game.

Marcus Trescothick, who has travelled to India despite the stress-related illness that curtailed his last overseas tour with England, for the Ashes in 2006-07, will have much to do if Somerset are to succeed. Trescothick's value to his side was amply illustrated during the Twenty20 Cup Finals day in August, when his 56 from 32 balls blew away Kent in the semi-finals. He showed then what uncommon timing and power he still possesses, but he couldn't repeat it in the final and Somerset were overwhelmed by Sussex.

Trescothick won the Professional Cricketers' Association Player of the Year award on Thursday night in his absence, having arrived in India in the early hours of the morning accompanied by his wife Hayley. He got a third-ball duck in a warm-up game against a Hyderabad XI later that day (a match Somerset won by 98 runs) but he is feeling confident about his ability to deal with anxiety problems.

"The journey went as well as it could have done," he said. "I didn't have any great problem at the airport and I was extremely well looked after. I never kidded myself that this trip would be easy and I have had one or two anxious spells already. But I have tried-and-trusted methods of dealing with them, which I shall be sticking to, and at the moment I feel fine."

Deccan Chargers are big favourites to win today having claimed the second Indian Premier League title, although Cape Cobras' thrilling opening-day win over Bangalore Royal Challengers on Thursday suggests the Indian sides may not be quite the awesome prospect they had seemed. Nonetheless, a Deccan team featuring Adam Gilchrist and Andrew Symonds is not to be underestimated.

Sussex, the other English side in the competition, also deserve respect, especially after that impressive Finals Day performance at Edgbaston. The Sharks, currently on an unbroken run of eight victorious T20 matches, face the toughest of tasks in Delhi tomorrow against New South Wales, who won Australia's Big Bash back in January and easily beat South Africa's Eagles yesterday. Simon Katich and Phillip Hughes are the most impressive names in the batting line-up – Hughes must be licking his lips at the prospect of a bit of revenge against the English after his poor summer – while Brett Lee, who leads the Blues' attack, is arguably in the form of his life.

Security is tight – understandably so, given that the 2008 event was called off after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. Sussex will travel with armed guards at all times having been briefed by British police before flying to the sub-continent.

The South Coast side, though, are not alone in that. The NSW slow left-armer, Stephen O'Keefe, commented on the level of security in his blog on the club's website. "[The seriousness with which the Indians are treating the security] was made clear by our on-bus guard (packing a machine gun) stopping peak-hour Delhi traffic to do a U-turn across six lanes after we missed the proper turn," he wrote.

This being Twenty20, the most modern, shiny form of the ancient game, O'Keefe is not alone in using the internet to communicate with the public. The IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, the brains behind the competition, is using Twitter. Earlier this week he offered fans the chance to watch a match alongside him: whether England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke rushed off an e-mail in response is unknown.

The ECB, of course, tried to get their own Champions League going last summer having fallen out with Modi. Subsequent events have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that India rules the game financially these days, but Somerset and Sussex can show things are not so clear-cut on the field.