Key's opening bid can give Kent the final say

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The Knock-Out Competition for First Class Counties was launched to rescue county cricket following a dramatic decline in attendances. Earlier this week, 48 years after MCC took their momentous decision by a single vote, a brief but plaintive announcement emanated from Lord's.

It said that tickets were still available for the Friends Provident Trophy final and that if they were not taken up by telephone bookings, they could be bought at the ground today. In other words, the original one-day tournament, eventually named as the Gillette Cup, has lost its allure.

Other sporting matters today may have had some effect but it is also hard to avoid the conclusion that Twenty20 is so dominating affairs of cricket that the original one day final is no longer the blue riband. Kent and Essex, the dominant sides of the Seventies and Eighties respectively, would then have filled Lord's single-handedly.

In those years, this final was frequently seen as a final (televised) opportunity to stake a claim for a place in England's winter touring squad. Daft though it was that a performance in a one-day match could dictate the composition of the Test squad, it seemed perfectly logical at the time.

Since logic has not been a noticeable part of the present panel's deliberations they may as well take account of those who play significant roles today. This assumes they are qualified, a feature which will not be prominent on either team sheet. Not long ago, Kent prided themselves on having 10 players born in the county in their starting XI, whereas an important credential at present appears to be a South African birth certificate.

Still, three players have a real opportunity to further their claims. Robert Key (below) and Joe Denly are a formidable partnership who look extremely at ease with other. (It is also true that the Essex pair of Mark Pettini and Jason Gallian have done well, but the other two have more obvious class). Key and Denly are two of the leading players who have failed recently to gain membership of the exclusive men's club that is the England cricket team.

In his attractively droll fashion Key said: "It would make both our lives a little bit easier playing cricket with the bloke you bat with every day in every form of the game. That would be plan A and plan B would be that I get in and Joe doesn't."

James Foster, of Essex, is probably the best wicketkeeper in England now, if Chris Read is discounted. In the T20 finals three weeks ago, Foster provided a wonderful exhibition of his art and what it can do to lift a team. A similar offering today, assuming he recovers from a virus in time to play, should persuade the most dull selectors to sit up, if not take notice.

The FPT is not strictly speaking a knock-out these days. Kent lost two matches in qualifying, Essex three.

There is firepower on both sides, not least in the explosive one-day man of the season,Graham Napier, but the weather may preclude a high scoring final.

Essex have one other slight injury doubt in Pettini who suffered a recurrence of astigmatism in his right eye yesterday. Painful as this was, it is one of those matches when a player might wish to turn out having had an eye poked out.

Pettini is relying on the team element. "We have had a number of outstanding individual performances from a lot of different players," Pettini said. The return of Alastair Cook from England duty will indubitably help but Kent may still possess more big game nerve.

Kent (from): R Key (capt), M van Jaarsveld, Azhar Mahmood, S Cook, J Denly, G Jones (wkt), R Joseph, J Kemp, R McLaren, D Stevens, J Tredwell, M Walker, Yasir Arafat.

Essex (from): M Pettini (capt), R Bopara, V Chopra, A Cook, G Flower, J Foster (wkt), J Gallian, Danish Kaneria, D Masters, J Middlebrook, G Napier, T Palladino, T Phillips, R ten Doeschate, C Wright.

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