Surrey and Leicestershire, the most successful counties in the Twenty20 Cup's history, face a major challenge to their attempt to become the first team to win the competition for a second time.
Essex enter today's sell-out finals day at Trent Bridge with an impressive record in this season's campaign and a great deal of ambition. Earlier this season Ronnie Irani became the first Essex player to score a Twenty20 Cup hundred, against Sussex at Hove, which has helped to lift the Essex captain to 11th in the all-time scoring list. They also beat Surrey in the group stages, recording an emphatic four-wicket win.
Little wonder that the Essex batting coach Graham Gooch is confident of his team putting up a good show in the opening semi-final against Leicestershire at 11.30am. "I think we have as good a chance as anyone," he said, "and the way we've been playing we have nothing to fear."
Leicestershire, the 2004 winners, have the competition's all-time leading scorer, Darren Maddy in their line-up. "The buzz of this occasion will bring the best out in us once again," said Maddy, who has scored 962 runs since the inaugural competition in 2003.
"We have developed some good game plans, which have been a significant reason for our success over the past four seasons in the competition."
The second semi-final pits the home team Nottinghamshire against a formidable Surrey side. Maddy may be the leading scorer, but Surrey boast three batsmen in the top eight run-scorers. Perhaps more significantly, the 2003 winners, who have now qualified for all four finals days, have the competition's leading wicket-taker Nayan Doshi, whose left-arm spin has earned him 45 victims in the three seasons that he has been involved.
"I don't have a secret for my success. I just try to outwit the batsmen," he said. "People say take the pace off, but they also have to understand that the ball still has to have revs on it because if you just lob it up you will get smacked all around the park. But you have to vary your pace, and I might change my line as well."
With the advent of the first Twenty20 World Cup next year Doshi looks a certainty for England selection. But he does not want to be cast as a Twenty20 specialist. "If you look at my Championship record, I've got my wickets at an average of 26 to 35 wickets in nine games and the Pro40 is going well as well, so I don't think I am a Twenty20 specialist."
Nottinghamshire, in the semis for the first time after not progressing beyond the knock-out stage previously, have the England wicketkeeper Chris Read in their team, although Surrey's record is superior.
Surrey are bidding for a remarkable treble, as Doshi explained. "We are trying to bag three trophies, the Second Division Championship, the Pro40 and the Twenty20, and they are all within our grasp."
Twenty20 Cup Finals Day (Trent Bridge): Semi-finals: Essex v Leicestershire, 11.30am; Nottinghamshire v Surrey, 3pm. Final: 7.30pm.Reuse content