Hampshire and Sussex take centre stage
As a nation takes time out to recover from the emotions of the first two Ashes Tests there's a chance for the domestic game to have centre stage, albeit for one day, as local rivals Hampshire and Sussex battle for the Friends Provident Trophy. Less than a week after Andrew Flintoff brought Lord's to its feet, county players will dream of victory on the famous ground.
These are changing times for domestic cricket. Next week decisions will be taken on the structure of the game from next season and the consensus now appears three competitions played over the three standard lengths - first-class (four day), 50-over and 20-over. It has taken a long time for a lot of people to decide on a simple answer.
Hopefully the new structure will give a little more breathing space to the fixture list so that the situation Hampshire find themselves in, of finishing a Championship match the day before the final, is avoided in the future. With scheduling like that, it's no wonder England's 50-over cricket struggles to develop and they start at a disadvantage to Sussex who have had a week to prepare.
The glitz of Twenty20 (or more pertinently the money on offer) has raised questions about the health and longevity of the 50-over game and what part it plays in the future. But while county stars are excited by the prospect of Twenty20 finals day they still hold the showpiece Lord's final close to their hearts.
"It's definitely the pinnacle for a domestic cricketer," Luke Wright, the Sussex allrounder, told Cricinfo. "I've been lucky enough to be in one before and I can't wait to experience it again. You don't get too many chances in your career and to play in front of 27-28,000 fans is a special occasion. It doesn't matter whether you are one of the younger or older players."
Crucially this has the makings of an eye-catching final: a local derby involving sides with a recent history of tension between their two former captains. When Chris Adams and Shane Warne were in charge of the respective sides there were a number of heated exchanges, but there was a sense that it was a clash of two personalities rather than two teams.
"We've had some good battles," Wright said. "There's always talk in the build-up of the history between Warnie and Adams but as a group of players we have always got on very well together. There is a healthy rivalry as there should be between close neighbours."
It's also hard to split the teams on paper. Sussex edge the batting stakes particularly now Matt Prior has been made available to join a hefty line-up that includes Wright, Murray Goodwin, Michael Yardy, the in-form Ed Joyce and the explosive Dwayne Smith. Joyce, who is returning to his former home ground, hit a career-best 146 off 139 balls in the semi-final against Gloucestershire and his success since moving from Middlesex has helped compensate for Adams' retirement.
However, Hampshire can boast the solid opening pair of Jimmy Adams and Michael Lumb, who has been named in England's Champions Trophy 30 along with Joyce, and the recently prolific Michael Carberry with three hundreds in his last three Championship matches.
They also have a potent bowling attack. Chris Tremlett should be competing for an England spot but his career hasn't clicked, Dimitri Mascarenhas knows his county role perfectly unlike when he plays at international level and Dominic Cork's fire isn't close to burning out. They also have perhaps the trump card, that little bit of magic that can turn a game, with the legspin of Imran Tahir.
Of course he's no Warne (or, as Sussex supporters will point out, Mushtaq Ahmed), but he's capable of changing a match. He took 3 for 38 in the semi-final against Lancashire and has eight wickets at 18.87 from four FP matches this season. Sussex, though, will counter that bowling strength with Yasir Arafat's expertise at the start and end of the innings. The fielding? Both teams should be outstanding, but watch out for Smith and Carberry. This is why it's too close to call.
Then there is the battle between the two current captains - Mascarenhas and Yardy - who have learnt much from their predecessors. Mascarenhas would have been a brave choice to lead England in the World Twenty20, and shows many of Warne's traits in the field, while Yardy's early reign has shown the tough spirit that came from Adams.
Whichever one of them is holding the trophy aloft, hopefully the match will have enabled domestic cricket to grab the attention. At least for a day.
Sussex: Yasir Arafat, Will Beer, Joe Gatting, Murray Goodwin, Rory Hamilton-Brown, Andy Hodd, Ed Joyce, James Kirtley, Robin Martin-Jenkins, Chris Nash, Matt Prior, Dwayne Smith, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy (capt)
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo