English Twenty20 struggles to keep pace
It's easy to forget that England is where Twenty20 began. It doesn't feel like that these days. The game has been carried forward at speed by other nations and the ECB has been left in the wake. How to compete with the IPL? How to attract overseas players? How many matches do the public actually want?
The Twenty20 Cup, whose showpiece event, Finals Day, is at Edgbaston on Saturday, has grown steadily since its inception in 2003. Next year there will be more changes as the tournament is played over a longer period of mid-summer with more matches in a two-league structure and will be called P20.
The idea of a second Twenty20 tournament has been ditched, largely due to the economical climate, and the new P20 will aim to be a half-way house between the current format and the international flavour of the IPL. Quite how many stars turn out remains to seen. It's all about money.
Earlier this week an expanded IPL was announced and in 2011 there will be 10 teams making 94 matches. Too much of a good thing? Try telling that to Lalit Modi. It is futile to try to keep up with a multi-million dollar machine. The ECB tried, of course, with the fateful association with Allen Stanford and they won't care to be reminded of that mistake.
However, the financial rewards of Twenty20 will still be a major motivation at Edgbaston with Champions League - another Modi brainchild - berths up for grabs for the two finalists. Except for Northamptonshire, who will be disqualified because two of their South African allrounders - Nicky Boje and Andrew Hall - did not produce the required evidence that they had severed their links with the ICL in time, though the pair have now ended their deals.
Last year Kent reached the final but had Azhar Mahmood and Justin Kemp on ICL books. In the end the Champions League was cancelled after the Mumbai terror attacks, which meant Middlesex missed their chance at competing having qualified without any ICL players. This year Middlesex finished bottom of their group (although they'll always have Antigua). It's a tough game.
Kent, though, have made it to finals day again and now Mahmood and Kemp have cut their ICL ties so the Champions League is a real aim as it is for Somerset and Sussex. The prizes on offer are sizable, but first you have to get there. The second semi between Kent and Somerset looks the tougher draw, but in Twenty20 it's hard to tell. Here's a run down of the contenders.
Pedigree - Won the trophy in 2005 when Graeme Smith played a key role in their success.
Strengths - An awesome top order. Marcus Trescothick is in prime form and Craig Kieswetter will push for an England place when he qualifies. Then there's Justin Langer and the in-form James Hildreth.
Weaknesses - No major spin option, although Max Waller, the 21-year-old legspinner, is making a positive impression. Nothing like the big stage to show what you can do.
Star man - Trescothick. How England would love him to be at The Oval next week. Can win a game on his own.
Pedigree - Runners-up last year and winners in 2007 they have all bases covered for this format.
Strengths - Probably the most complete team on show. Hitting power all the way down the order, the death-bowling skills of Azhar Mahmood and Wayne Parnell (back from South Africa specially for Finals Day), a seasoned spinner in James Tredwell and an astute captain.
Weakness - Not a huge squad, so will need all their big-guns available. Rested key players for last Championship match which showed where their focus is.
Star man - Mahmood. Has plenty of Finals Day experience with Kent and Surrey. Is one of the best at the death.
Pedigree - The departure of Chris Adams and Mushtaq Ahmed has been well compensated for by a determined side. They have appeared on one previous finals day, but didn't progress past the semis in 2007.
Strengths - The experience of James Kirtley and Yasir Arafat will serve them well with the ball, while the young spinners have performed above expectation.
Weaknesses - They have missed out on a trophy this season with their Friends Provident defeat. Will that haunt or motivate them? Murray Goodwin has also lost form at the wrong time and they will be missing Matt Prior, who has been rested ahead of the final Ashes Test.
Star man - Luke Wright. Is capable of match-winning performances with bat or ball, warmed up with 95 off 68 balls in the Pro40 last weekend and a five-wicket haul in the Championship.
Pedigree - Their first appearance on finals day, and searching for their first silverware since winning the County Championship Division title in 2000. They haven't won a one-day prize since the Natwest Trophy in 1992.
Strengths - Their trio of South African allrounders, Johan van der Wath, Andrew Hall and Nicky Boje, play key roles, but don't overlook the hard-hitting Niall O'Brien.
Weaknesses - How will the pressure affect a team that isn't used to success and will the ICL situation be a demotivating factor?
Star man - van der Wath. Gives the ball and thump and can bowl at either end of the innings.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo