Will Hawkes: Northerners may be bitter, but Twenty20 title looks like it's heading south again

County Focus
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The Independent Online

It's enough to make any proud northerner spit.

After four years of southern domination, the bookmakers are united: the Friends' Life Twenty20 title is not about to make the journey northward. With the quarter-finals beginning today, when Leicestershire host Kent, most turf accountants have Hampshire, last year's winners, as favourites. If that weren't galling enough for the grittier half of the country, the second favourites are Sussex.

You cannot really accuse the bookies of prejudice, though. This is not a case of Southern bias, as a look at the competition's last four winners shows: 2007, Kent; 2008, Middlesex; 2009, Sussex; 2010, Hampshire. Surrey and Somerset have also won the competition since it began in 2003, leaving Essex, remarkably, as the only club in the south-east never to have tasted success in the shortest form of the professional game. Having failed to make the quarter-finals this year despite a team packed with ability, that wait will continue for at least one more year.

Essex's investment may not have paid off, but other southern sides have achieved success at least partly through bringing players in.

There's a sense, too, that success has bred success in the south-east. The standard of the southern group has been noticeably higher of late than that in the north. This season saw the southern quarter-final places go to the wire, and, Hampshire and deadbeats Middlesex and Gloucestershire excluded, the teams were of a remarkably similar level of quality.

Is there any evidence that the tide is about to turn? Maybe, maybe not. T20 cricket's 'north' begins at Gloucestershire's border with Worcestershire, and seen like that, there may be a reassuringly traditional cultural gap at play here. The Championship this season, like last, is being fought out among the counties above that divide: Durham, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire. Somerset represent the south's only realistic hope, and six of the nine First Division sides come from north of that border.

The idea that cricket in England is still played differently on either side of the Trent is appealing, but of little use to those sides who will battle for a Finals' Day place this weekend. Can Leicestershire win the T20 battle of the two worst four-day sides at Grace Road? Will Lancashire live up to their one-day heritage with victory over Sussex? Can Durham turn over Hampshire at the Rose Bowl, and Notts defy Somerset at Trent Bridge? Anything is possible, but the bookmakers are not often wrong.