Two clubs bid for Trophy glory after sad summer
Yorkshire stand in the way of Somerset's bid to retain the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy, as both sides seek solace in Saturday's showpiece Lord's final after suffering disappointing seasons.
Yorkshire may have a fanatical following, but the outlook at Headingley is gloomy. With the club struggling financially it is believed that the Tykes will be forced to cut their staff in the close season. Stuck to the bottom of the Frizzell County Championship - which they won so convincingly last year - Yorkshire also look destined for mid-table mediocrity in the Norwich Union League. A win at Lord's would do much to lift the gloom.
Such is the enthusiasm for the game in the West Country that Somerset's ticket allocation was sold out by August 1. Though they have an excellent squad on paper, Somerset have not lived up to their potential. Already relegated to Division Two of the Norwich Union League, they are in danger of suffering the same fate in the Championship.
In spite of such form, it is expected that the teams will provide a memorable final. A full house is expected, with England's centrally-contracted players available. Yorkshire are full of star names, while Somerset's big-hitters, led by the in form Ian Blackwell, are capable of destroying any attack. Veterans Peter Bowler and Michael Burns add experience to the mix, with young seamer Matthew Bulbeck always dangerous.
Injury could prevent Marcus Trescothick from making the final, while Craig White is desperate to play, and could feature as just a batsman. Trescothick's broken thumb is taking longer to heal than expected.
White has been in top form for the white rose county, turning in a superb all-round performance in the semi-final victory over Surrey. He claimed 4-35 before blasting a dismissive century in an easy win. Academy graduate Matthew Wood has performed well in the competition, and is likely to keep his opening spot despite the return of Michael Vaughan.
Trescothick's flashing blade made a rare appearance at Taunton for Somerset's fourth-round clash with Hampshire. He hit a powerful century to lead his side to victory before breaking `that thumb' after emerging second best from a battle with Graeme Hick's cover drive.
"Marcus has had plenty of nets," said Somerset coach Kevin Shine. "We brought him up to Blackpool to net him and prepare him and we will make a final decision tomorrow morning - at the moment it's reasonably bright for him, but you never can tell."
Trescothick is equally keen to play, stressing: "This game is the highlight of the domestic season. We've done well to get there and I am desperate to be involved. It's a big game to make a comeback in, but I have no qualms about that.
"Physically I've been in the nets and hitting the ball well so I feel I can do myself justice in the final. The only time I have a problem is if I hit the ball in the wrong place or mis-time it but the jarring is not that bad."
Luckily for Somerset, Keith Parsons had the game of his life at Worcester, the all-rounder top scoring with 121 as the visitors chased down 272. Parsons' aggressive batting and solid seamers helped the Cidermen to victory against Leicestershire in last year's final, and he is more than capable of a repeat dose.
The match of the tournament though, was Somerset's incredible semi-final with Kent. In front of a raucous crowd, Blackwell hammered 86 as Somerset reached 344. Only a late-order collapse halted Kent's charge, the home side eventually winning by six runs.
Yorkshire fans had their adrenaline shot in the quarter-final. Having been unceremoniously dumped out of the Benson and Hedges Cup by Essex, Gary Fellows and Anthony McGrath helped to redress the balance at Chelmsford. McGrath made 72 and Fellows 68 to tie the match and progress by losing fewer wickets.
Though Somerset can rely on Jamie Cox's presence, Darren Lehmann misses out for Yorkshire. Lehmann's replacement is ideal, the phlegmatic Matthew Elliott sure to stand firm. Many will judge him by how he fares in tomorrow's final, on his return to the ground where he made his maiden Test hundred five years ago.
It is a high-pressure assignment, but Elliott is relishing the prospect. As well as his Test hundred he still remembers a Benson and Hedges Cup final defeat for Glamorgan against Gloucestershire two years ago - and he wants to set the record straight.
"I see that I have good memories from Lord's but also some I want to make up for," he said. "It is not nice to get so close as we did at Glamorgan and then not win - so there is a lot for me to prove this time.
"It is a great chance for me and for Yorkshire to make something of the last weeks of the season. There is a lot to be done, both against Somerset and in the county championship. But this Yorkshire team has a lot of talent in it."
Matthew Hoggard leads a much-lauded seam attack, with Chris Silverwood bowling particularly quickly. Silverwood, on the fringes of the England set-up, has also turned himself into a furious pinch-hitter.
With Hoggard and Andy Caddick hoping to suppress two explosive batting orders, a classic is a distinct possibility. Somerset may have a more popular following in cricket circles, but perhaps, in this miserable year, even the most ardent Lancastrian might wish Yorkshire a little luck.