Counties want to leave their mark
English cricket's involvement in the Champions League T20 is difficult to compartmentalise. Their teams are not guaranteed places in the tournament like the shareholders' representatives but they are the only country to have two in the qualifiers. There is a hazy disinterest in the competition at home, as it has forced changes to the season, but a strong desire from the teams maximise their opportunity.
Hampshire and Yorkshire could be the last English sides to play in the CLT20, because of scheduling clashes between the tournament and the county season, and both want to leave a lasting impact. But while Dimitri Mascarenhas is bullish about his squad's chances, Jason Gillespie was demure a feeling no doubt increased due to the absence from the Yorkshire squad of England pair Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan through a combination of injury and ECB orders. Hampshire, too, are missing a key player in Danny Briggs, the left-arm spinner, who is getting married.
"We want to give ourselves a huge chance to do well," Mascarenhas said. "As cricketers, we want to do is play in front of big crowds and play in big tournaments and this is another opportunity." Gillespie, in a softer voice and with less fire in his eyes, simply said, "We have nothing to lose in this tournament. No-one is expecting a lot of us. We're quite comfortable with that."
Hampshire were England's best limited-overs side last season. They won both the Friends Life t20 and the CB40 and Mascarenhas hopes they can "keep that momentum going in the next few weeks." They are grouped with Auckland, who failed in last year's qualifiers, and first-timers Sialkot Stallions and fancy their chances against both, especially because they have potential match-winner Shahid Afridi in their squad.
"He is a legend. To have him in your team, is just amazing," Mascarenhas said, although he was careful to qualify that Afridi's role in the team is almost limited to bowling. "We're not expecting a whole lot from him with the bat, whatever we get is a bonus but we know he can do it if he has to. We will use him more as a bowler who can bat a bit. He loves bowling, he loves taking wickets and we can all see that in his celebrations."
Mascarenhas himself is another of the key players for Hampshire. Having been the first English player to join the IPL he has significant experience in 20-over cricket and has seen the format develop. "It's definitely getting better. You can see the standard is improving," he said. "I read a couple of interviews recently from Eoin Morgan and Shane Watson recently saying the IPL experience helped them become better players. It's made me become a better player."
He hopes that some of the Hampshire players can use the CLT20 to follow in his footsteps. "It's big business now and if you do well at T20 you put your name out there," Mascarenhas said. "Hopefully the IPL will come knocking for some of these players as well. There are a lot of avenues that open up."
Yorkshire do not have the same structure or ambitions. With no marquee superstar they want to compete with Trinidad and Tobago and Uva Next to show off what they have achieved together. "We pride ourselves in being a good unit and a good team. You can see that when we play," Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire captain, said. "Other teams have people from all over the place and but with us, it's pretty much our domestic team that's here and we see that as a plus in the tournament."
Most of the Yorkshire players have "not had as much exposure," on an international stage according to Gillespie and he has encouraged them to use the opportunity to show national selectors what they are all about. "People will be looking at our players and there is a lot of talent to look at in the Yorkshire line-up. We're looking at this as a wonderful opportunity to play cricket against players that a lot of these guys have never seen before and have never played against."
Yorkshire stepped up their preparations with a 23-run win over Sialkot and although they were pleased with the result, Gale said he did not think they were at their best during the match. They will take Monday off to enjoy the warmer weather in South Africa before their first match on Tuesday.
Hampshire open their account on Wednesday and while the two teams may cheer each other on in the qualifiers they are also ready for the possibility of playing against each other in the later stages. And what do they expect then? "I think it is going to be a pretty even tournament, there are no one or two stand out teams who are going to win it," Mascarenhas said.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent